Learn to be manipulative at work
October 4, 2017 6:53 AM   Subscribe

According to Bob Bontempo, from Columbia Biz School, leadership is manipulation (this is not a negative). What are some sources for tips, tricks and strategies around his work or that of Chris Voss (Never Split the Difference Book)?

I am looking for both long and short term approaches. This is not meant to be a horrible thing, but rather something that will help with clients, managing up and my own team. Bontempo says their is a difference between negotiation and persuasion - I am more interested in persuasion but Chris Voss seems to view it all as negotiation - which is fine too. Looking for additional books, videos or articles about essentially manipulating people to agree with you.

Also not looking for really standard stuff like "Getting to Yes" or "How to win friends and influence people". Looking for things that are more based on psychological research, other science, etc. For example if you look at the Chris Voss stuff some is not typical - he, for example, likes to get to "no" first rather than "yes". Letting someone say "no" off the bat makes them more comfortable, drops their wall and actually makes things easier. So you start by getting them to say "no" to something easy and sometime unrelated "Do you mind if we talk now?" ,etc.

Again let me say I swear this is positive manipulation. Not looking to start a cult. Get anyone fired, etc.
posted by UMDirector to Work & Money (7 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Check out the Harvard Business Review. You can access a few of the articles online without a subscription- look for the categories on leadership and managing people. They also have a great four book set on emotional intelligence that I think is fan-friggin-tastic. Some of it may be what you're looking for.
posted by susiswimmer at 7:07 AM on October 4, 2017

You should be aware that this kind of thing is usually way more visible to the audience than its practitioners think, and will also alienate and lose clients.
posted by thelonius at 7:28 AM on October 4, 2017 [15 favorites]

While it's true that leadership can be viewed as manipulation, this view, like any, has its downsides: for one, it objectifies human relations and creates its own traps in so doing. That said, like any view, it also has its upsides (no really bear with me those of you with a conscience who are gasping): relationships do contain manipulation, and it can be enlightening and healthy to recognize that, since none of us are perfect and what we like to see as black and white – manipulation bad, relationships good – is in fact a much more complex interplay. For instance: we tell jokes hoping to make others laugh. How manipulative! It is manipulative. But it's only bad if you automatically tag manipulation as bad. If you recognize that, like anything, it can run the gamut, it becomes another quality to ascribe to human relations. (Which does not mean it's never bad! It can be bad! I'm saying it's not automatically so, however.) Note that this is, too, different from saying things are manipulation. Manipulation being part of something isn't the same as it being something.

Digression aside. Overt manipulation for manipulation's sake, e.g. objectifying/quantifying relationships in order to create outcomes that wouldn't have happened otherwise... yeah, that rarely works. And when it does, it's over a very short term indeed, plus it will have unpredictable long-term consequences.

I work in management and am a sincere sort. I've had more than my share of "helpful" upper management advice to be less sincere and more manipulative (in the objectifying sense). I never took it. What I did do was to watch those advice-givers carefully over the long term. Without fail, they have all had "surprise" terrible outcomes – from people they thought were in their pocket, stabbing them in the back. Why is this?

Well, viewed from the outside it's obvious: people who get manipulated often figure it out, and once they do, there's a big desire for revenge. Not only that, but since they've been manipulated, they see no reason to play by the rules in getting revenge. Not everyone will actually go through with it, but really: if a manipulator is playing that game on a large scale, the chances that they'll cross even just one person who thinks to themselves "as soon as I get the chance, I'm taking them down" are multiplied, while the chances of them creating long-term relationships of mutual support are practically nil. Whereas what happens when you're sincere? You multiply those relationships of long-term mutual support, and if/when you do cross a vengeful sort, well, they might pull something, but its impact will be subdued.

This is where we circle round to my starting digression: even sincerity is a sort of manipulation, see. When you're honest with yourself, and you know that sincerity is a long-term relationship boost, well, isn't that a bit manipulative? But where would we be as a species if we didn't build each other up and count on each other? It's why I specify manipulativeness-as-objectification versus manipulativeness as a means of viewing things. It also helps defang more sociopathic views that do try to paint sincere relationship-building as bad-manipulative. When in reality, it's "manipulativeness" of our very best human qualities. I'll take manipulating of good faith shared goals and values over manipulating for short-term egoistic gain any day.

I do grant it's not something that lends itself to a few paragraphs on a website; it's nuanced and complex; but again. We are nuanced and complex. Please don't fall for anything that tells you humans are otherwise. You're the one being manipulated-as-an-object in those cases. For any number of purposes, whether it's buying books/talks/pageviews to outright indoctrination. True leaders recognize that people are complex.
posted by fraula at 8:16 AM on October 4, 2017 [15 favorites]

The book "The 48 Laws of Power" by Robert Greene (Wikipedia, AMZ).

If you have never thought about the specific levers that motivate people -- positively or negatively -- then this collection of short, readable strategies might be very useful to you. Each principe is described and then illustrated with an excerpt from history & literature.

I have done leadership training in the past and found that what the Boy Scouts taught me was essentially like what JROTC taught me and also like what I learned from some professional courses that my employer sponsored. Yet in those formal lessons there is only a little overlap with the book's material, and I found it refreshing to have someone come right out and state that a really simple technique for building group cohesion is to provide a common enemy to align against.

That may not be the technique that serves you here, but give the book a try.
posted by wenestvedt at 9:59 AM on October 4, 2017

Neuro-linguistic programming can accomplish this but tread carefully. If you deliver those techniques poorly it will backfire. Ask Yourself why you feel the need to do this.
posted by crunchy potato at 10:48 AM on October 4, 2017

Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When the Stakes Are High isn't about manipulation so much as it's about strategy, but it's an excellent book that I think everyone in management should read.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 11:22 AM on October 4, 2017

Instead of thinking about it as "manipulation (this is not a negative)," but rather as "motivation (this is a positive)."
posted by porpoise at 11:40 AM on October 4, 2017

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