-reading time: 5 minutes- / -audience: leaders, teams and team members-
Manipulation of decisions: how it happens and how to prevent it
Have you ever had the feeling that the outcome of a meeting was manufactured prior to the meeting itself? That the discussions were directed into a favourable outcome for a only few of the members, positive or negative?
In particular Steering Committees are all about direction setting and decision making. I have been a member of many Steering Committees and reported to a few too. In quite a number of cases, I felt that the meeting was just a formality. Obviously, office politics played a role, mostly on the expense of the engagement and commitment of all people involved – not to speak about the commitment to implement the decision.
This is how it happens:
Priming the focus of the delivery
Most decisions are promotion regulated or prevention regulated, meaning that motivation for the decision will be regulated defensively towards a status quo or more aspirational, towards growth.
The first step is to prime the delivery, which is how the delivery is presented: do we want to prime the delivery of the motivation as sticking to our obligations, or do we want to realise our aspirations and dreams?
Depending on the focus, promotion or prevention regulated, the success take-aways of the presentation are presented either as positive outcomes in case of promotion, or absence of negative outcomes in case of prevention. Data to motivate the decision is selected accordingly.
The positive emotions that accompany the delivery are cheerful in case of promotion or relief in case of prevention.
Priming the focus of the decision sets the stage in the decision-making process.
Presentation delivery cheat sheet
Initial polling prior to the group discussion
In a more transparent and psychological safe environment, the Steering Committee would follow up with a discussion and ask for everyone’s opinion in plenum.
When this does not happen and opinions are presented during the presentation, then initial polling has taken place. Initial polling and presenting the opinions in favour of priming (either promotion or prevention regulated), is the intermediate step in the decision-making process.
Frame the decision
Now that the delivery is primed and the opinions are polled prior to the discussion and brought in in favour of the priming, Roger Rabbit is framed – and you know who did it.
The Steering Committee outcome will surely be in favour of the delivery. The Steering Committee members are typically provided only with options within the context of the frame.
How to prevent manipulation of the decision-making process
Fortunately, manipulation can be reversed and avoided. Preventing manipulation of the decision and the decision-making process is the responsibility of the Steering Committee and of its individual members.
1. Group task: work on your teamship
Be aware of the group dynamics in the Steering Committee.
- Some members do not take part; this happens when these members believe that taking part in a collective is costly.
- Some members take a free ride; this takes place when these members believe that the collective action will happen without their individual contributions.
- Size matters in forming teams; contributions can be perceived as less important depending on the size.
- Constellation of teams may impact the speed of coming to a collective goal, caused by the characteristics of the team and of the individual team members.
So be aware of these four factors and where possible make adjustments to the team that needs to take the decision.
2. Group task: suggest rules for the decision-making process
If the psychological safety is there to make your voice heard, suggest transparency of the decision-making process.
- Have clear rules in the Steering Committee about what is presented, for instance, only facts and no initially polled opinions during the presentation delivery.
- Agree on speaking time for every member and ask for full engagement, so that all speak and all are heard.
- Create enough space and time for a meaningful Q&A with full participation.
- Agree on a voting method that suits and represents all members.
3. Individual task: reframe the delivery of the presentation
- Take the decision(s) out of the context that has been presented (the priming) and think of a more realistic context or even the opposite context. Find out for yourself, if this would change your decision.
- Try the reversal technique, it can help you overcome the status quo bias, which is a preference for the current state of affairs (in case of prevention). The current baseline, or status quo, is taken as a reference point, and any change from that baseline is perceived as a loss. Ask yourself if you would have decided for the status quo situation to change anyway, regardless of any other options.
- Take the outside view and overcome the overconfidence effect, which is our tendency to think that our judgements and skills are greater than they really are. What are the consequences of the decision in terms of resources required, impact on the company performance, is it in line or against public opinions, is it future-proof?
Now you can have a free mind for taking the right decision without being primed and framed!