The Art of Coercion – Part 1

Coerce – To cause to do through pressure, force, or necessity.

There is an exercise I facilitate in our leadership workshops where participants think about and respond to two words: coercion and inspiration. Predictably, under the heading of coercion, there are always statements such as “you must do this, in this way, by this time, and with these restrictions.” These words communicate a directive or mandate. Thus, this exercise reveals that when someone receives a directive to do something in a specific way, there is a higher chance of the person feeling coerced.

Interestingly, when we consider doing work well, it is driven by clear goals, specific timelines, defined methods, and sometimes restrictions. Do you see the tension? People have a greater chance of feeling coerced if they are mandated to accomplish a task (goal), by a deadline (time), in a specific way. However, work often requires directives focused on goals, timelines, specific methods, and restrictions. Thus, as leaders, what do we do? How do we communicate directives, so there is not a constant feeling of coercion?

For this blog, I am going to focus on you as the one receiving the directive. It is important to understand what these directives are coming against inside of us, which will give us empathy for what happens when we give the directives to others. I would suggest directives confront our desire for autonomy and independence – “I want to do it my way, or I want some say in this.” The conflict is between doing it “my way” or “doing it your way”. Granted, sometimes directives give a person freedom to execute an order in his or her own manner. “I need this done by Friday at 3:00 p.m. in whatever manner you see fit”. However, it is still a directive and there is a chance of feeling coerced. Thus, if we receive a directive, we must find a way to overcome our desire for autonomy. To overcome our own feelings of being coerced in these situations, I would suggest three things.

  1. Humble yourself – Put yourself in the posture and attitude of receiving the directive.
  2. Trust the people giving the mandate – Recognize the person giving the mandate may see and know information you do not. If there is a lack of trust, recognize this, and begin to rebuild it.
  3. Discover more information – Sometimes it is a matter of simply asking questions and understanding why the directive was given.

As you practice receiving directives, consider how you are receiving them. Are you humble? Is there trust in the relationship? Do you understand the reason for the directive?

In the next blog, I will focus on delivering a directive in a way that reduces the possibility of the person feeling coerced.