Monday, October 22, 2012


Manipulators will usually assume manipulation. Why is this?

But first; what is a manipulator? I define a manipulator as someone that attempts to steer another's behavior by covert means - by limiting or filtering the information passed on. I see this as a destructive behavior that damages the organizational system; which relies on free flowing information in order to respond appropriately.

From time to time I have clashes with the manipulators in my organization. Sometimes this is about my wish for greater transparency - something manipulators greatly fear, as their methods do not work in such an environment. But more often than not this is instead because they assume I have a hidden agenda (as they do) and therefore imagine the worst kind of motives for my behavior.

I find this assumption that others must share one's own motivations fascinating - as I do not think in this way. The very first thing I do is try to model the motivations of those around me, based on long conversations and some observation. Doing this I have concluded that people have widely varying primary motivations. Some are primarily motivated by safety, some intellectual challenges, some want the best for the company and some only to advance their own career (these are usually the manipulators).

So why do manipulators assume that everyone else always had a hidden agenda? That innocent questions are an attempt to circumvent or challenge? And how is it that in almost every organization manipulators prosper at the expense of our efforts to achieve transparency?


  1. Is manipulation always bad?
    I think it is essential when dealing with people of differing mindsets. If I am dealing with theory x managers and I have an agenda to pursue more freedom to let knowledge workers take part in decision making and process ownership, then I wouldn't so blatently and offensivly declare that to the managers. This will create resistance. Instead I will listen to what everyone wants, and set up a system that addresses those wants as well as highlighting issues in the current negative behaviour and encouraging change towards more positive behavior.

    People don't like to be changed but they don't mind making changes themselves.

    Or you don't tell your partner you are cooking a specific meal because you want her to lose weight, you tell her it is delicious, or you yourself want to lose weight.

    If you are a doctor faced with a patient with serious health issues, who needs to relax, stay positive and take a certain medicine, you won't neccesarily be so crass and blatant about the nature of the situation, you will couch it in reassuring terms.

    If someone stinks, or doesn't work well, or keeps misunderstanding something, and your goal is to fix it, then coming out and blatantly saying it will not improve things. Instead you use more tactful means to address the situation. You keep your motivations to yourself, and set the other person up to succeed.

    If you read the book Fearless Change, you will find that most of the techniques there are more or less covert. I found it a bit tasteless at first, even manipulating but I have a different view now.

    It is a matter of respect, targeting your audience better, considering other peoples needs as well as your own, and understanding how people are motivated.

    Basically it comes down to telling people to succeed doesn't work. But by finding out out what their needs are, and setting them up to address those needs and succeed in implementing the desired change as well, you might just have a chance.

    1. I think you are confusing manipulation with diplomacy. There is something intrinsically dishonest about manipulation, that it is for the manipulators best and not in the interest of the manipulated. Manipulators ignore your needs as they are selfishly focused on their own agendas.

      Diplomacy on the other hand is different. Just because I am open and transparent does not mean I am not diplomatic. It does not mean I ignore other people's needs (quite the opposite). I want to reach a common understanding, but I base this on op[en and honest communication - so that the other party knows that they can trust me. If they trust me they are far more inclined to listen to what I have to say. In my long experience most organizational change lead by manipulators fail. Change requires an open and honest communication of the goals and reasons behind them, respect for all the participants and many iterations.