“Changing Reality in the Heads of Employees”, or Elements of Manipulation in Labor Relations


“Ivan, hello! Forgive me for taking you away from your tasks, but the matter is extremely important. We have a very difficult situation and I just don’t know what to do. There is a very, very, very serious problem, without solving which I will have problems. I need help with this. I thought for a long time who I can turn to … (pause). Who I can be 100% sure of and who has never let me down … (pause)
I know you as a close person, you are very professional and loyal. You have repeatedly rescued the company and me personally…. As you can see, I did not send my request in writing, and I wanted to PERSONALLY ask you. You need to go to work on Saturday and do … “

And the continuation, if suddenly the employee decides to refuse:

“Am I wrong about you? (pause) I thought you were just as worried about the case as I am. I saw in you my replacement …. “


In fact, everything happens more subtly, but you probably met some of the phrases I proposed in this case.

Remember your feelings when you heard such phrases. You felt uncomfortable and did not want to refuse your interlocutor. He immersed you in a pleasant role. In this role, you were noble, responsible, kind, … and, naturally, you were pleased to try on this role and be in it. At the same time, you did not even imagine that the interlocutor put you in a losing position: if you agree, you will have to fulfill the interlocutor’s request, if you refuse, the interlocutor will change his opinion about you (he will take this role from you). This is called manipulation.

Manipulation is an action that one person uses against another to achieve his goal, provided that the true goal is purposefully hidden and the manipulator’s gain is achieved through the loss of the one he is manipulating. In simple words, manipulation is a way to obtain hidden one-sided benefit at the expense of another.
use and respond with no less powerful “reciprocity”. Therefore, in the long term, manipulation is extremely unprofitable for the company. After all, what’s the point of looking for an employee for a long time, adapting, training, so that later he leaves after the very first manipulation rendered to him. And he will leave, since manipulation, if it was recognized as such, is perceived by a person on a par with deception and violence.


Changing reality

Consider a popular example of manipulation from the novel “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” by Mark Twain

“One day, as punishment for pranks and deception, Aunt Polly made Tom paint a fence thirty yards long.
Tom fell into anguish. It was Saturday morning, the time of freedom for any boy. In addition, Tom was afraid of ridicule passing by acquaintances. He tried to dump his job on Jim the Negro, but was caught by his aunt.
Then a brilliant idea came to him. He decided to issue the punishment for the privilege.
Tom took a brush and began painting the fence, pretending to be a man engaged in an important and interesting business. When the boy Ben Rogers approached him and began to scoff at him, hinting that Tom had to work, while he was going to swim and play, Tom replied that whitewashing the fence is much more interesting and not every boy would be entrusted with such a responsible job.
The situation has changed. Ben, seeing with what ecstasy Tom paints the fence, gradually began to change in his face and, finally, asked Tom to let him try to paint too. Tom, rejoicing in his soul, refused, pointing out the responsibility of the assignment. Ben finally fell into a trap. He gave Tom an apple, if only he would let him whitewash the fence a little.
The same thing happened to the rest of the boys who came up to laugh at Tom.
… When Ben was exhausted, Tom sold the next line to Billy Fischer for a used kite, and when he got tired of whitewashing, Johnny Miller bought a line for a dead rat with a string to twirl it, and so on. and so on, hour after hour. By the middle of the day, from a poor boy close to poverty, Tom became a rich man and literally drowned in luxury … “

What did Tom Sawyer do? He changed the reality in the heads of the boys. Before that, they considered the process of painting a fence boring. And in addition, painting the fence in their understanding was forced and limited the freedom of any boy (who wanted to walk with his peers). And Tom turned a different reality on this quite adequate and real look. He, as they say, “made candy out of shit” (sorry for that expression). And he did it purposefully. He wanted, at least, not to be laughed at, but respected (they say, he was entrusted with such a responsible job). And, as a maximum, to merge (entrust) this work to someone else….

Let’s go back to organizations and employees. Oftentimes, executives do the same, as did Tom Sawyer. They try to transform ordinary boring, unimportant work into words. When this is done with pure motives and the leader really believes in what he is saying, it still didn’t go anywhere. But when a leader tries to embellish reality, although he realizes that this is actually not the case, this is already pure manipulation. For example, a manager may tell you that the job of a call center operator in his company is the most important of the positions. “This is an employee who helps clients, solves their issues and makes a profit. He is very valuable to us! ” And if, in addition to these words, he confirms this in deeds: he will consult with the operators, greet everyone every day, know everyone by name, … – you will be able to believe in his words. But when the business manager shows something else: he pays little, keeps like cattle, shouts, … – these words will be pure manipulation.

PS Some business trainers give the example of Tom Sawyer from the other side. What the hero did with the other boys, they call “the high leadership abilities of Tom Sawyer, with the help of which he involved others in the work.” Naturally, I do not agree with this opinion. It seems to me that the leader and “threw” are two different things.

Magic pill

Manipulation is used as a magic pill that will help a manager quickly, cheaply and effortlessly get employees to do certain jobs. Why build a corporate culture, why work out motivational systems, why develop management skills…. – it is enough to conduct a manipulation session and the employees will run to work. Fast, cheap, effective! What else is needed?


“The Democracy Game”

“… the director calls a meeting. All middle managers are present at the meeting. An important issue is on the agenda. All participants are professionals in their field, are involved and ready to express their opinion. The director gives a long introduction, talks about the importance of the future decision, that everyone needs it. will observe and live with him, and, most importantly, the decision must be taken unanimously.
The director began a presentation of the solution options. There are 4 of them in total. He took each option in turn, told its pros and cons, and voiced his opinion. And then I noticed oddities.
The first oddity was that he presented the first three options quickly and dryly. In his presentations, there were more negative characteristics, and the advantages were insignificant. But when he got to the fourth option, then he cheered up. He presented it for about 15 minutes (the same as all the previous ones together), he emphasized the correctness of this option, gave many arguments and, if on purpose, if only by accident, missed obvious shortcomings.
After that, we moved on to the discussion. Each participant had to give his own assessment of each of the options and argue for it. And then the second oddity manifested itself. When the first participant (the head of the sales department) proposed his own version (instead of the four proposed by the director), the director, without delving into it, asked the following question: “Why don’t you want to consider the proposed options. For example, the fourth? ” In response to this, the head of the department argued his position and seriously criticized the fourth option – he showed those shortcomings that the director had missed. Further, a small dispute arose between the director and this boss, the director defended his version and finally said: “Kolya is always not like that for you. You seem to be an intelligent and experienced boss, but you look so short-sighted…. ”. It was then that I and everyone present began to understand that we were not at a meeting, but at a performance. It turns out that the decision has already been made, and this is all happening only from the motives of democracy and “so that everyone is involved”.
In general, this was the end of it. Each of the participants who spoke next simply agreed with the choice of the fourth option. Nobody wanted to waste time on arguments that would lead nowhere. Once the decision has been made, no one needs it … “

Have you ever faced such a situation? I have come across multiple times.

Is it possible that when a leader does this, he is pursuing the goal of deceiving the participants in the meeting? Not really. I would not call it “a desire to cheat.” Not all leaders who do this have evil goals. They just naively assume that his associates will gather at this meeting and everyone will accept his version (which has already been chosen). As a result, a very interesting picture takes place at such a meeting. A manager who was confident that all employees shared his point of view encounters opinions that are far from the one he has already accepted. Further, he begins to forcefully push his decision and does it unprepared, sometimes sharply, and shows his bias towards this decision. Employees, in turn, understand (they are not idiots) that they were trying to push through the already made decision under the good guise and that they are simply being manipulated. The way out of the situation will be mutual dissatisfaction, a drop in the authority of the leader, problems with the further implementation of the solution, and other interesting things.

Why doesn’t the leader just announce his decision and put on this show? There are reasons for this:

1) Democracy
“The whole world preaches democracy, therefore I (the leader) must act democratically. I have to make all decisions together with my colleagues ”.

2) Engagement
Shared decision making increases further involvement in their implementation. And despite the fact that the decision has already been made, the manager is trying to push it through the meeting. Thus, not to lose the opportunity to win the involvement of listeners.

3) “You will answer for the bazaar”
When a leader makes a decision himself, there is a risk that he will not be supported and will not be implemented. Therefore, he calls a meeting to formally make a collective decision. Accordingly, since at the meeting everyone agrees and nods their head, the effect of “answering for the bazaar” appears. Like, “you agreed and now be kind to do it.”

4) Fear of resistance
The leader does not want to go by force and make a decision on his own, because he is afraid that people will begin to resist.

5) fear of making decisions
The leader is afraid to make independent decisions, since then the responsibility for the result fully falls on him. Therefore, it is better to do it collectively and share the responsibility.

Output: do not involve employees in the discussion of issues on which a decision has already been made. If the decision is made, and you understand that there may be resistance during its implementation, the decision must be “sold” to your employees (like any client). There are special technologies for this. But, more on that in another article …


If an employee realizes that he was deliberately manipulated, he will not forgive this. Nobody will forgive. Manipulation is perceived at the level of deception and violence.

For a manager who uses manipulation, only employees who have nowhere else to go will work. And these are not the most efficient people.

Again, it is very difficult to work with such a leader for “stars” or simply ambitious employees. After all, these employees want to maintain the status of loyal, responsible and best employees by default. They need to be respected. They do not want the manager to change his mind about them. And the leader is happy to use this and turns them “right and left”. Fortunately, he does not succeed for long, sooner or later they still begin to understand this whole game and happily leave such a boss.

Read the continuation of the series of cases on demotivation and management in my telegram blog: t.me/OS_management
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