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“Is It OK To Manipulate For Good Purposes?”

by David Brock on May 19th, 2019

James Muir published an outstanding post, “Is it ok to manipulate clients for their own good?” It’s a must read.

Basically, James describes a conversation with a sales person who feels it’s OK to manipulate and pressure a customer because that sales person knows how happy the customer will be with the solution.

Most of you would, hopefully, find this premise not only arrogant, but preposterous. The logical extension of this behavior is this sales person will manipulate and pressure every customer–because why would he be selling to a customer that would be unhappy with a product?

Some might think, “How is it that the sales person knows better than the customer what is the right thing for the customer to do–only the customer can make that determination?”

Others, as James suggests, would take the position, “Does the end justify the means?”

Those and other arguments are well founded. Let me suggest another argument, “It doesn’t work!”

Everyday, we see various forms of manipulation being attempted, for good and bad reasons. I’ll grant you, some people are susceptible to being manipulated, each of us probably falls victim every once in a while, but it is seldom sustainable. People catch on, people tend to value their ability to think independently, when they realize they are being manipulated, they tend to react negatively–even if they know it’s for good purposes.

Whether it’s selling to our customers or leading our employees, manipulation is unsustainable. First, who are we to make the determination of what’s the right way of doing things or the right decision for our customers or our people? We don’t know their situations, what’s driving them, what motivates them, how they best achieve? We can only project our interpretations of those on them–inevitably what’s good or right is a reflection of our own views, not those of the customer or our people.

Second, there is no ownership in manipulation. The customer or our people simply don’t own what we have coerced them into doing. While they may do what we’ve gotten them to accept, it has a high probability of failing, because it isn’t theirs.

We may even be right, but we fail. Any reader who is a parent knows this doesn’t work with children (forget the fact that children are pre-wired to always say “No.”). As much as we may be right, and as much as we want to see children not make mistakes, they don’t learn until they make their own decisions, they don’t know how to learn and make good decisions until we give them the freedom to choose.

This is no less true with our customers, our people, and our colleagues. None learn, grow, and improve, unless they make their own choices. None will be able to sustain that learning and growth unless they decide for themselves.

There is no argument that supports manipulation, even if the manipulation is done for good purposes. If we want to create value, we create it with our customers and our people, both discovering, learning and growing in the process.

One Comment
  1. Joel Lyles permalink

    I know James was just relating a story, but all the same it’s shocking to me how much of our interaction with prospects and customers, whether marketing, sales, or even operations, comes from the starting point that the prospect or customer is stupid, lazy, and/or forgetful.

    But forget about sales and the harm manipulation does for a moment: what about your responsibility to your fellow human beings? You know, to treat them with dignity and thoughtfulness? What happened to that?

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