On Manipulation

My book, Driving Technical Change, is about trying to get your coworkers, your teammates, and your management to accept new tools and techniques. It involves politics, persuasion, and an organized campaign to win hearts and minds.

On several occasions I’ve gotten comments both positive and negative about the contents of the book or my talks being “manipulation.”

One could mean manipulation as “getting someone to do something”, which is not that bad. Using that definition we could say:

  • My doctor manipulated me to quit smoking
  • That salesman manipulated me into going with the cheaper option
  • My spouse manipulated me into eating healthier
Unfortunately, “manipulation” has some baggage as a word. We would never use it in those ways. Rather we would say:

  • My doctor convinced me to quit smoking
  • That salesman steered me into going with the cheaper option
  • My spouse encouraged me into eating healthier
Right? Because manipulation doesn’t just mean “getting someone to do something.” It usually means “getting someone to do something either using dishonest means, or with sinister outcomes.” Either you get someone to do the right thing through trickery, or you get them to do something that is positive for you more than it is for them.
Therefore, I feel I have to equivocally state Thou shalt not manipulate.
Tricking people might work in the short term. It might even win your game for you. But it never works out long term. You’re going to be with your team for awhile. You’re investing in long term advantages for you and them (You know, whatever you are trying to get them to uptake.) Therefore anything that will leave your team feeling used and abused is not in your best interest.
I talk about this a bit in Chapter 17 Creating Trust, which you can download for free from the Pragmatic Bookshelf.

4 thoughts on “On Manipulation

  1. I’ve read your book (which I liked, by the way), and I would disagree with those who characterize the techniques you lay out as being manipulative. Figuring out why certain folks would resist the change you’re proposing and tailoring your approach to address that form of resistance is simply good strategy.

    As long as you make an honest argument for the technical change you’re advocating (and you stress the importance of being candid and honest in the book), then I see no problem with using the approaches outlined in the book to maximize the effectiveness of your campaign.


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