Sunday, 26 June 2011 00:00

Manipulation's Unethical Ethics

Rate this item
(3 votes)

Road sign to high-road or low-road

A friend of mine alerted me to an article in a PMI Community post titled Is Manipulation Ethical? From the title, I thought this would be neat read. However, the article was pretty swallow. How foolish to think that a 650-word article would address an issue that has plagued philosophers for a few millennia. The initial reaction was to the manipulative title, which was deceptive. It led me to believe the article would supply some profound knowledge. The short treatise failed. To its credit, though, it made me think. On the second pass, I decided that I disliked the article. In fact, its thesis—manipulation is ethical—is morally wrong.

Ethics: Passenger Jets And Cruise Missiles

To say that manipulation is acceptable based on its ethical outcome is absurd. In the eighties I was in a conversation with a friend's brother who was repulsed at the fact that I was working for Boeing. His contention was that behind the guise of building commercial aircraft, Boeing was building weaponry that could be unleashed on innocent people. Unbeknownst to him I was working automating an electronics manufacturing line that surely was making extremely sophisticated electronics, including cruise missile components. Did he persuade me? No, his logic was a flawed and based on conspiracy theories. The thought stuck with me, what if I were doing the same job in the then USSR? An Individual's beliefs of what is good may not be what is actually good for others. Ethics, like it or not, are societal based and no one can use their principles as a guide to what is proper for others.

Maybe A Hooker Will Help

My talks on culture include a true story about working on a project in a Pacific Rim country. While debating the tactics for securing a multimillion-dollar contract for a project to automate a semiconductor manufacturing facility, the account manager suggested funding a prostitute for the potential customer's senior procurement manager. Shocked speechless by this unquestionably unethical proposal, I realized the ensuing conversation by the local management was as matter-of-fact as my suggestion to take the same individual to lunch (incidentally, an equivalent costs). Within a few seconds I had to determine whether to protest or shut up—I knew I could not endorse the idea. Recusing myself was too subtle and putting up an argument on the ethics seemed a little too intrusive into another culture. Many will consider my reaction a cop out. In a joking manner, I recalled company policy and that if they wanted continue that we (there were two other US employees in the room) would have to leave. They responded politely and stopped the conversation and we moved on to the next subject. I can honestly say that I am unaware of what they did. I have my suspicions.

Manipulation Versus Persuasion

The aforementioned article's conclusion is "Is manipulation ethical? Yes, positive context manipulation is not only ethical but it is often the best course of action." I totally disagree. Persuasion is ethical, manipulation is not. In the above example, conversation over lunch persuades, hookers manipulate. Therefore, I fail to see an ethics-based justification. As illustrated, ethics are societal based and moving from one culture to next its definition changes. Examples are everywhere. For instance, cultural attitudes about gender influence everything from terminating pregnancies, to the value of children, to who is allowed to work or drive a car. None of these mores, in my opinion, are ethical. For those who think they are, their basis for justifiable manipulation is quite different from mine. Persuasion, on the other hand, requires presenting data for guiding yourself or others in making informed decisions based on data from a variety of sources.

Manipulation is a poor method to getting people to arrive at a conclusion. Present the data logically so they can see the rationale. In the ensuing discussion, your understanding of the situation changes and outcome morphs, becoming stronger. At some point, stop trying to persuade people and be a leader—make a decision, give direction, and take accountability. Adopt a process that moves from sell to tell. People can disagree with decision, but will accept and follow it if it is made based on sound data. To the contrary, if they feel manipulated into agreeing with a direction, regardless of the intentions or the outcome, they will feel deceived.

Manipulation on a Global Scale

Consider the 2002 decision to invade Iraq. Regardless of whether you think it was justified, nearly everyone agrees that the decision was based on manipulating people's perception of a threat. Innuendo of the culpability of Sadam Hussein in the 9/11 attacks and tales of stockpiled weapons of mass destruction led hundreds of millions of people to stand behind the invasion to depose a heinous dictator. Few people will argue in favor of Mr. Hussein's human rights record; however, the tactics to enter the war has broadened the chasm between political factions around the world. Basing this decision on fact, analysis of the potential outcomes, and persuading governments and the people they governed on its merits and risks, would have drastically changed the outcome from the war and people's reaction to it. The goal of removing a tyrant may have been a noble cause benefiting millions of people, but the resulting division and skepticism of our leaders will have a long-term negative impact.

Simply Unethical

Manipulation may have a place in covert operations and war. It is unethical and should not be used in world politics, business, and especially with our children. If the data fails to support the direction and the decision maker is not accountable for his or her decisions, it is time alter the course.

Please, let us hear your thoughts.

Read 15267 times

Related items

  • Strategy-Execution Gaps

    The statistics on strategy execution are dismal:

    • 59% of middle managers fail at resolving conflicts in corporate strategy.
    • 45% of middle managers cannot name one of the top five corporate goals.
    • 64% of cross department/functional issues are poorly resolved.

    And maybe as you could expect from this:

    • 53% of companies cannot react timely to new opportunities.

    You do not need to be a rocket scientist to know that this trajectory is not going to launch most companies’ latest strategic plans successfully. In fact, these data might make you feel that middle management would be better suited as test dummies for the next generation of manned space-vehicle. Granted, the data show there is a dearth of leadership in middle management, but executive tier has a culpable hand.

  • Process Mapping

    Process is at the core of any business. It makes work predictable, repeatable, and transferable. Without it we cannot scale our businesses. However, process can be a bane to making progress. Processes that work for a $10 million company have difficulties supporting a $30 million company. Trying to scale them to a $300 million company will not only fail but not address the issues that larger companies have that were never dreamt of in a smaller organization. Processes need to be discarded, revamped, and built—all of that without creating an overburdening bureaucracy.

    Anytime you need to go someplace, you first have to know where you are. Processes are never static and your company's current state is probably far from where you think it is. Hence, the first step is mapping out you company's current state followed by defining the future state. This is more than a logical map of the process; it must also include physical maps. Whether your process is solely to provide a service (say, website development) or physical (say, manufacturing) there are logistical issues that complicate the process flow. Without fully understanding those nuances, future state processes will not reach the desired efficiencies.

    For more information about process mapping fill out the form to the left and we will get in touch with you.

  • Success vs Culture

    The other day a Latvian student contacted me for my views the connection between culture and success criteria—an important and intriguing topic. After working in Taiwan, Singapore, Korea, Japan, Israel, United States, and Canada, I wear many scars of both blatant and subtle cultural violations. I also know that within a culture one person's success is often another person's failure. So, after dispelling concerns about clicking on some random email link, I completed her survey (please feel free to take it yourself). In the process, I struck up a friendship with the student, Kristine Briežkalne, who is studying at Riga International School of Economics and Business Administration . She has some interesting views and presented me with a Venn diagram showing four frames to a project (business, client, project management, and growth perspectives) and how they intersected. As the diagram is part of her Master's thesis, I will let you ponder the how to label the overlapping areas (an eye-opening exercise).

  • Kill The White Knight

    There is a reason we do not teach classes on fixing failing projects. Many a cynic feels that we simply do not want to teach our trade, however, our reason is far nobler—we should be teaching prevention rather trying to create white knights to save the day. It is the same philosophy as building a fence at the cliff's edge rather than an emergency room at its base. Our language is replete with idioms telling us to look past the symptom and address problems at their root cause. 'An ounce of prevention versus a pound of cure' or 'a stitch in time saves nine.' Please, feel free to supply your own in the comments. Unfortunately, most of our businesses loathe this philosophy, waiting to address an issue until it is irrefutably broken.

  • Tales of an Expert Witness: Sex, Lies, and Video Tape (Part II)

    Trust relationships, certifications, and standards sound like such a safe harbor. These sound like such great words in a proposal or statement of work. How could you possibly go wrong building a trusted relationship with a customer by committing to follow a standard? In fact, this can burn you… in court.

    No one ever starts a project with the goal of ending up in court. In fact, litigation may never cross your mind; after all, you have built a trusted partner relationship. Taking a few cautionary steps, however, will make your life easier if you end up in that ill-fated litigious position. Your best chances for success come long before you enter the courtroom—even before the project starts.

Leave a comment

Filling Execution Gaps

Available Worldwide

Filling Exectution Gaps cover

Filling Execution Gaps is available worldwide. Below are some options.


PG DirectLogo
Limited Time Price $20.99
Amazon logo
Book or Kindle
Flag of the United States Canadian Flag Flag of the United Kingdom Irish Flag Deutsche Flagge
Drapeau Français Bandiera Italiana PRC flag
Japanese flag
Bandera de España
Flag of India
Bandera de México
Bandeira do Brasil
Flag of Australia
Vlag van Nederland
DeG Press Logo
Barnes and Noble Logo
Books a Million Logo
Booktopia Logo
Worldwide: Many other
book sellers worldwide.

Rescue The Problem Project

Internationally acclaimed

Image of RPP

For a signed and personalized copy in the US visit the our eCommerce website.

Amazon logo
Buy it in the United States Buy it in Canada Buy it in the United Kingdom
Buy it in Ireland Buy it in Germany Buy it in France
Buy it in Italy Buy it in the PRC
Buy it in Japan
Book sellers worldwide.

Upcoming Events

Other's References

More Info on Project Recovery

Tell me More!

Please send me more information
on fixing a failing project.