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5 Ways To Secretly Manipulate Your Boss

Yesterday, I posted a gallery explaining how to manage your manager. It was full of good advice for people who to get ahead by playing fair and being helpful. However, there are many cases (like when your boss is a horse's rear end) that the system in that gallery doesn't work. That's the reason for this present post.

This post contains the top 5 ways that political players in the corporate world manipulate their bosses to make the "right" decisions -- meaning the decisions that the players want them to make. I fully realize that publishing these methods is a little like publishing the plans to an atomic bomb.

So if you're going to try these methods in your career, try to remember that 1) knowledge is power and 2) with great power comes great responsibility. Use these techniques sparingly, if at all.

Click for the first method

RELATED POST (for the other side):

Hijack Your Manager's Meetings
  • Why You'd Do It: To create consensus for a decision that's favorable to you.
  • How You Do It: Convince your boss that the meeting should include as many as your own friends and allies as possible. Prep them up to support your ideas. When the meeting starts, volunteer to take minutes. When the meeting is over, send an immediate follow-up email that frames the minutes of the meeting so that it seems like consensus was reached on the decision that you wanted.
  • What Usually Happens: Regardless of what actually took place at the meeting, attendees (and, of course, non-attendees) will reframe their memory to fit how you characterized the meeting.
  • Warning: Give lip-service to other points of view or your email might appear biased.
  • Helpful Hint: Use weasel words so that you have wiggle room if somebody accuses you of mischaracterizing the thrust of meeting. Examples: "...the general sense in the room was that..." or "...many alternatives were discussed, but the most attention was given to..." or "...there was no substantial objections to the idea..."
  • Tales from the Front: Back when I was a mid-level cubicle dweller, the team I worked for (marketing) did this regularly to meetings held by the head of engineering, for whom we nominally worked at the time. Somehow every meeting that was supposed to discuss product features turned into a discussion of how we needed more money for market research. Eventually the engineers figured it out and started keeping their meetings secret. By the way, lest you think that we were impeding progress, the engineering manager in question had 800 programmers working for him, none of which were producing a single line of single line of useful code. So wasting his time was probably, on balance, a good thing.

Bury Crucial Information in a Long Report
  • Why You'd Do It: To create plausible deniability that you've properly informed the boss.
  • How You Do It: Find the longest, most boring report you can find that's peripherally related to your issue. Add, a few pages from the end, the fact you want to bury. Then send the report to your boss as an attachment to an email titled "FYI."
  • What Usually Happens: If your boss even opens the document, he'll glance over it and put it aside. If, after he makes the decision that you wanted, he complains that he'd decided differently if he'd been better informed, you point out that you provided that information in the report and assumed that the co-worker had read it.
  • Warning: If your boss actually finds the bit of information, you can't show any surprise, or he'll know you were trying to set him up.
  • Hint: Start the title of the report with the phrase "In Depth Analysis of..."
  • Tales from the Front: This particular type of manipulation is particularly rampant in corporate bureaucracies where plausible deniability is a way of life. Once saw a manager bury an important fact so deep (and worded so obscurely) that the CEO never figured out that they were paying hundreds of millions of dollars to attack a market segmentation that, technically speaking, was entirely fictional.

Force a Decision Through the Illusion of Choice
  • Why You'd Do It: To ensure that your boss will make the decision that you want made.
  • How You Do It: Prepare a set of three possible approaches to solving a problem. Make certain that two of the approaches, while plausible on the surface, are non-starters. For example, one might put the boss's job position at risk, while the other would make everyone in the department threaten to quit. The third choice, of course, is the one actually you want the boss to make.
  • What Usually Happens: Your boss looks at the three recommendations, thanks you for being so thorough, and then selects the only viable option.
  • Warning: If you don't make the two bad choices plausible enough, your boss might realize what you're doing.
  • Hint: Characterize the two bogus decisions as "courageous." That will scare the pants off any boss who wants to keep his job.
  • Tales from the Front: Have I used this one in real life? You betcha! You'd think that managers would get wise to this one, but I swear it's worked for me at least half-a-dozen times... and with managers who were otherwise pretty darn smart. The trick, of course, is to make sure that the bad choices are just within the realm of plausibility. You leave the part that backfires out (for the manager to figure out on his own, or with a little prompting from you.)

Create the Impression that You're Overworked
  • Why You'd Do It: To dodge assignments that you really don't want.
  • How You Do It: Glue a frazzled expression on your face. Never go anywhere without holding a huge stack of papers. Walk quickly and purposefully, like you're on a mission, even when you're just going to the restroom. When asked "how are you?" always roll your eyes and say something like: "I'm working my **s off." Sign yourself up to attend dozens of meetings, but be "too busy" to actually attend all of them. You get the idea.
  • What Usually Happens: You get a reputation for being a hard-worker and everyone feels a little sorry for you. Your boss, knowing that you're "stress to the max" will give the difficult assignments to somebody else.
  • Warning: This only works in organizations where activity is valued over accomplishment. If there are measurable goals, you're screwed.
  • Hint: Never, ever, ever clean your office, but constantly shuffle the papers around so it looks like you're getting things done.
  • Tales from the Front: This technique sort of falls into the category of "oh, come on, that wouldn't work," but I swear I saw two people use this method to avoid work for over FIVE YEARS. One of them was so good at it that he managed to keep getting promoted. I remember him because the only presentation I ever saw him give featured a page copied from a zoology textbook showing different kinds of rat poop. (His message: "in business you must differentiate between the huge rat s*** and the smaller varieties of the same.") I kid you not, this was the sum total of this guy's contribution, even though his salary was well into six figures.

Provide destructive feedback at exactly the wrong time
  • Why You'd Do It: To make sure that your boss fails when it's to your advantage for him to do so. (E.g. he's pitching an idea to top management that will create more work for you.)
  • How You Do It: Stockpile information that will throw your boss off his game. Then, right before the big meeting, provide that information under the guise of being helpful. Example: "I just think you should know that the rumor mill says that the CEO was profoundly unhappy with your work. So go in there and knock 'em dead!"
  • What Usually Happens: The "news" is so distracting that your boss can't focus, and will end up clutching and screwing up.
  • Warning: Make the information have a vague enough source that it can't be easily checked.
  • Hint: Make it clear that you're providing the information to be helpful.
  • Tales from the Front: I've never attempted this one because I've not got the stomach to be that devious. However, I know of a guy who got stuck with a raving lunatic of a manager -- constantly belittling people, screwing up big time, and self-medicating like crazy. She would go into meetings with the executive team and essentially volunteer to take on any difficult task that came up in order to look like she was super-competent. Then she'd come back to her team and demand even more unpaid overtime from them so that she could deliver on the promises she'd made. Finally, her team started sabotaging her out of self-defense, and one of the ways one team member tried was to tell her that he'd "heard a rumor that the CEO was worried about your drug usage," right before her meeting with the executive board. She felt she had to defend herself and ended up explaining, to top management, why she was taking so many prescription drugs. Within six months she was history. Her replacement? The guy who sabotaged her. Who, by the way, was just as bad in many ways. I suppose the lesson is that, if you've got play this kind of political crap, chances are that the organization is so broken that you'd be better off working somewhere else.
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