Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 7, Issue 28;   July 11, 2007: Ethical Influence: II

Ethical Influence: II

by

When we influence others as they're making tough decisions, it's easy to enter a gray area. How can we be certain that our influence isn't manipulation? How can we influence others ethically?

A project manager — call him George — once asked me about guiding a team in making tough decisions. Senior management had informed George that they had rejected his team's recommendation, opting instead for an idea the team felt was unworkable. George couldn't convince the managers of their error, and they'd told him to "Make it so."

Fearing the team would go ballistic if he told them the news, and not wanting to command them, George told the team the issue was still open, and asked them to rethink it, hoping to nudge the discussion in the "right" direction.

He asked me what I thought. (What do you think?)

A horse

A horse. Note how the eye is positioned. The visual field of a horse is very different from ours. We're blind to our rear and side. By contrast, the horse can see almost all around, except for two small blind spots, one to the front and one to the rear. This ability might be the reason why horses have difficulty in urban traffic — they see everything, and it must be very nerve-wracking. To "protect" them, we put blinders on them. When we feel the need to put blinders on other people — to curtail some of their Five Freedoms — we're essentially conceding that people have abilities for which our management skills are no match. Photo by Adamantios.

Although George's plan might "work," it's ethically questionable, because it deprives the team of important information. Unless they come to the "right" answer, they're headed for trouble. He's also concealing the difference between their perspective and management's. If the team knew about that difference, they might pursue some other course, such as approaching one or more managers privately to have a candid conversation.

And if George's ploy is ever uncovered, his relationships with the team members could be irreparably harmed.

George infringed the team's "freedom to see and hear what is here" — one of Virginia Satir's Five Freedoms, introduced last time. In my view, that infringement makes his action unethical. Here are the last three of Satir's Five Freedoms, with applications to influencing others.

The freedom to feel what one feels, instead of what one ought
When we try to control another's feelings, we're probably over the line. Shaming others for feeling what they feel — or for feeling at all — is a common way to violate this freedom. Phrases such as "Don't get all in a tizzy about this," or "Relax and hear me out," are indicators (perhaps) of these attempts.
Suppressing feelings doesn't eliminate them, but it does distort them, which limits our ability to use them constructively.
The freedom to ask for what one wants, instead of always waiting for permission
Constraining what Telling people, "Don't get
all in a tizzy about this,"
is one way to infringe
their freedom to feel
what they feel
people can ask for is one way to infringe this freedom. People also try to constrain how others make requests, in what forum, to whom or how often. And we can find instances of retribution for having made requests.
Groups that constrain this freedom deny themselves legitimate ways of learning about resource deficits and other organizational problems.
The freedom to take risks in one's own behalf, instead of choosing to be only "secure" and not rocking the boat
Killing the messenger is one way to deter people from taking risks in their own behalf, but we can also do it by imposing a heavy burden of strictly enforced policies. Because problem-solving organizations thrive best when they form partnerships with their people, limiting personal risk-taking harms both the individual and the organization.

Sometimes we infringe the freedoms of others unintentionally, outside our awareness. Moving slowly leaves time to think. Pause. Check out what you're doing. If you're in a gray area, look first for another path. Go to top Top  Next issue: Reverse Micromanagement  Next Issue

See "Never, Ever, Kill the Messenger," Point Lookout for November 7, 2001, for more about killing the messenger.

For more about horse vision see Horse Vision Through Your Horse's Eyes at www.horses-and-horse-information.com.

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See also Workplace Politics, Emotions at Work and Ethics at Work for more related articles.

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We commit the reification error when we assume, incorrectly, that we can treat abstract constructs as if they were real objects. It's a common error when we try to motivate people. Available here and by RSS on November 22.
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