Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Using Your Powers for Good

Manipulating people usually is considered an evil activity. Dictators manipulate the masses to stay in power. Criminals manipulate the law to get away with crime. However, normal people, every day, are practicing acceptable manipulation as part of a natural, societal ritual.

The grease on the wheels of society—civility—was developed for the basic reason that people tend to behave towards one another as they are treated. The norms of society dictate what that type of treatment should be, and then we as human beings practice on one another for the sole purpose of attempting to solicit the response we want, which is civility, in return.

The best part about the manipulation imposed by civil behavior is that it’s recognized to benefit all parties involved. If I’m polite to you, and you’re polite to me, we both win. This is the type of manipulation I consider “good,” where both parties come out ahead. Everyone has the power to manipulate. Not everyone does, and not everyone manipulates for the good of all parties involved.

There’s a lovely card by Anne Taintor with the quote “She had not yet decided whether to use her powers for good or for evil.” Originally, my husband defined “good” as anything that benefited him, but I have expanded that definition to include doing as much as I can to make sure anyone with whom I interact is just as happy with the interaction when it’s over as I am. Of course, I still work to keep him happy. I’m legally obligated to do so, and I kind of like him.

My father says that to get ahead in business, you can go one of two ways. You can climb over the bodies of those that you are surpassing, or you can convince those at your level and below to lift you up. In the case of the climbing over bodies plan, you tend to spend a lot of time protecting yourself from people like you, and trying to allay the fears of the next round of people you’ll be climbing over. However, you do get to the top, and there’s the added benefit of a degree of fear in trying to remove you from it, no matter how you got there, because people looking up at you are clear on what you’re willing to do to get there. However, you leave a lot of people wanting to rip you away from power, and you lack a firm foundation of allies to help you keep what you’ve gotten.

When you inspire, help, lead, persuade, or bribe people below you and at your level (and above your level) to lift you up, you run the gamut of issues, as well. You have to watch out for people who are climbing over bodies, just the same as the other path to success, so you don’t end up a lifted platform onto which they may climb. Additionally, you have to keep your promises, and keep making people happy, or at least be as fair as possible so those who raised you before do not turn against you the higher up you go and erode the pyramid of goodwill that lifts you. However, unlike a ladder of bodies which isn’t that stable (many people don’t like staying under other people’s heels), the pyramid of goodwill is pretty stable. Some people may resent you, but their ability to erode your power is greatly limited. People in general can and will be irrational. But faced with rational, fair, and friendly behavior, they have a harder time tearing you down.

Note I did include “bribe” above. There’s nothing wrong with a good bribe. I’ll go more into that later, but being raised up by others is done by fostering good feelings and being fair with them. And as long as they always feel good and other people can measure the fairness (as well as they can), there are a variety of methods you can use. Being liked, rational, and a good person doesn’t mean you can’t fight back, can’t play dirty when the situation calls for it, and can’t help others who are on their way towards failing, to fail faster or more spectacularly. Every step of the way, though, it helps to ask yourself if you’re being fair. If you’re doing everything you can to try and right things with others, before you give them that helping hand towards self destruction. The reason for this is not because I want to make you into a paragon of the business world, but because by applying the principles of fairness you have a much better chance of being perceived as a paragon. Perception is important when forming networks, alliances, and calling in favors.

You can practice some of the ideas in my blog without being fair, moral, or ethical. They’re extremely likely to work, anyway. This is not quite an anti-Machiavellian love-one-another sort of thing. But it is meant to both make your life, and the lives of others in your office a better place. At the central core of the philosophy of using your powers for good (and you have powers, everyone does, even if they don’t know it yet), is that in doing that, you’re making the entire foundation of the workplace stronger. You can then use this strength to make yourself (and others) more successful.

Along those lines, you don’t have to do everything I ever suggest (unless you really, really want to give me lots of money and pay the taxes on it). You actually don’t have to do anything. But I have hopes that if you only do a few things I suggest, your work life will improve, both career-wise and in the I-want-to-get-up-and-go-to-work way. To me, career is important in that it makes me happy to get up and go in the morning, and so I can afford the toys I like and can keep my husband in the lifestyle to which has become accustomed. Part of his happy lifestyle is me being happy in my job, because, well, when I’m not happy, its hard for anyone in our household to be happy. Hence the need, in my marriage and my work, to use my powers for good.

Welcome to my blog!


  1. I favor open usage of bribery. “What kind of bribe would incline you to do x?” is a fine question to ask: it shows that you appreciate that the person would like some additional incentive to perform a given task.

  2. I have an upcoming post on honest bribery. I think you will be pleased :)

  3. I hope you have a post on how you manage to pull off being the puppet master while at the same time convincing the puppet that this is the greatest thing that has ever happened. Having been the puppet under your control before I really want to understand how you do that :). Love your comments! K-

  4. I have a few blog posts on how to make people happier to help you...I think that's what you're looking for Kristina.