Require contributions in advance

by Viliam7 min read8th Feb 201627 comments

65

Relationships (Interpersonal)Dark Arts
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If you are a person who finds it difficult to tell "no" to their friends, this one weird trick may save you a lot of time!

 

Scenario 1

Alice: "Hi Bob! You are a programmer, right?"

Bob: "Hi Alice! Yes, I am."

Alice: "I have this cool idea, but I need someone to help me. I am not good with computers, and I need someone smart whom I could trust, so they wouldn't steal my idea. Would you have a moment to listen to me?"

Alice explains to Bob her idea that would completely change the world. Well, at the least the world of bicycle shopping.

Instead of having many shops for bicycles, there could be one huge e-shop that would collect all the information about bicycles from all the existing shops. The customers would specify what kind of a bike they want (and where they live), and the system would find all bikes that fit the specification, and display them ordered by lowest price, including the price of delivery; then it would redirect them to the specific page of the specific vendor. Customers would love to use this one website, instead of having to visit multiple shops and compare. And the vendors would have to use this shop, because that's where the customers would be. Taking a fraction of a percent from the sales could make Alice (and also Bob, if he helps her) incredibly rich.

Bob is skeptical about it. The project suffers from the obvious chicken-and-egg problem: without vendors already there, the customers will not come (and if they come by accident, they will quickly leave, never to return again); and without customers already there, there is no reason for the vendors to cooperate. There are a few ways how to approach this problem, but the fact that Alice didn't even think about it is a red flag. She also has no idea who are the big players in the world of bicycle selling; and generally she didn't do her homework. But after pointing out all these objections, Alice still remains super enthusiastic about the project. She promises she will take care about everything -- she just cannot write code, and she needs Bob's help for this part.

Bob believes strongly in the division of labor, and that friends should help each other. He considers Alice his friend, and he will likely need some help from her in the future. Fact is, with perfect specification, he could make the webpage in a week or two. But he considers bicycles to be an extremely boring topic, so he wants to spend as little time as possible on this project. Finally, he has an idea:

"Okay, Alice, I will make the website for you. But first I need to know exactly how the page will look like, so that I don't have to keep changing it over and over again. So here is the homework for you -- take a pen and paper, and make a sketch of how exactly the web will look like. All the dialogs, all the buttons. Don't forget logging in and logging out, editing the customer profile, and everything else that is necessary for the website to work as intended. Just look at the papers and imagine that you are the customer: where exactly would you click to register, and to find the bicycle you want? Same for the vendor. And possibly a site administrator. Also give me the list of criteria people will use to find the bike they want. Size, weight, color, radius of wheels, what else? And when you have it all ready, I will make the first version of the website. But until then, I am not writing any code."

Alice leaves, satisfied with the outcome.

 

This happened a year ago.

No, Alice doesn't have the design ready, yet. Once in a while, when she meets Bob, she smiles at him and apologizes that she didn't have the time to start working on the design. Bob smiles back and says it's okay, he'll wait. Then they change the topic.

 

Scenario 2

Cyril: "Hi Diana! You speak Spanish, right?"

Diana: "Hi Cyril! Yes, I do."

Cyril: "You know, I think Spanish is the most cool language ever, and I would really love to learn it! Could you please give me some Spanish lessons, once in a while? I totally want to become fluent in Spanish, so I could travel to Spanish-speaking countries and experience their culture and food. Would you please help me?"

Diana is happy that someone takes interest in her favorite hobby. It would be nice to have someone around she could practice Spanish conversation with. The first instinct is to say yes.

But then she remembers (she knows Cyril for some time; they have a lot of friends in common, so they meet quite regularly) that Cyril is always super enthusiastic about something he is totally going to do... but when she meets him next time, he is super enthusiastic about something completely different; and she never heard about him doing anything serious about his previous dreams.

Also, Cyril seems to seriously underestimate how much time does it take to learn a foreign language fluently. Some lessons, once in a while will not do it. He also needs to study on his own. Preferably every day, but twice a week is probably a minimum, if he hopes to speak the language fluently within a year. Diana would be happy to teach someone Spanish, but not if her effort will most likely be wasted.

Diana: "Cyril, there is this great website called Duolingo, where you can learn Spanish online completely free. If you give it about ten minutes every day, maybe after a few months you will be able to speak fluently. And anytime we meet, we can practice the vocabulary you have already learned."

This would be the best option for Diana. No work, and another opportunity to practice. But Cyril insists:

"It's not the same without the live teacher. When I read something from the textbook, I cannot ask additional questions. The words that are taught are often unrelated to the topics I am interested in. I am afraid I will just get stuck with the... whatever was the website that you mentioned."

For Diana this feels like a red flag. Sure, textbooks are not optimal. They contain many words that the student will not use frequently, and will soon forget them. On the other hand, the grammar is always useful; and Diana doesn't want to waste her time explaining the basic grammar that any textbook could explain instead. If Cyril learns the grammar and some basic vocabulary, then she can teach him all the specialized vocabulary he is interested in. But now it feels like Cyril wants to avoid all work. She has to draw a line:

"Cyril, this is the address of the website." She takes his notebook and writes 'www.duolingo.com'. "You register there, choose Spanish, and click on the first lesson. It is interactive, and it will not take you more than ten minutes. If you get stuck there, write here what exactly it was that you didn't understand; I will explain it when we meet. If there is no problem, continue with the second lesson, and so on. When we meet next time, tell me which lessons you have completed, and we will talk about them. Okay?"

Cyril nods reluctantly.

 

This happened a year ago.

Cyril and Diana have met repeatedly during the year, but Cyril never brought up the topic of Spanish language again.

 

Scenario 3

Erika: "Filip, would you give me a massage?"

Filip: "Yeah, sure. The lotion is in the next room; bring it to me!"

Erika brings the massage lotion and lies on the bed. Filip massages her back. Then they make out and have sex.

 

This happened a year ago. Erika and Filip are still a happy couple.

Filip's previous relationships didn't work well, in long term. In retrospect, they all followed a similar scenario. At the beginning, everything seemed great. Then at some moment the girl started acting... unreasonably?... asking Filip to do various things for her, and then acting annoyed when Filip did exactly what he was asked to do. This happened more and more frequently, and at some moment she broke up with him. Sometimes she provided explanation for breaking up that Filip was unable to decipher.

Filip has a friend who is a successful salesman. Successful both professionally and with women. When Filip admitted to himself that he is unable to solve the problem on his own, he asked his friend for advice.

"It's because you're a f***ing doormat," said the friend. "The moment a woman asks you to do anything, you immediately jump and do it, like a well-trained puppy. Puppies are cute, but not attractive. Have you ready any of those books I sent you, like, ten years ago? I bet you didn't. Well, it's all there."

Filip sighed: "Look, I'm not trying to become a pick-up artist. Or a salesman. Or anything. No offense, but I'm not like you, personality-wise, I never have been, and I don't want to become your - or anyone else's - copy. Even if it would mean greater success in anything. I prefer to treat other people just like I would want them to treat me. Most people reciprocate nice behavior; and those who don't, well, I avoid them as much as possible. This works well with my friends. It also works with the girls... at the beginning... but then somehow... uhm... Anyway, all your books are about manipulating people, which is ethically unacceptable for me. Isn't there some other way?"

"All human interaction is manipulation; the choice is between doing it right or wrong, acting consciously or driven by your old habits..." started the friend, but then he gave up. "Okay, I see you're not interested. Just let me show you the most obvious mistake you make. You believe that when you are nice to people, they will perceive you as nice, and most of them will reciprocate. And when you act like an asshole, it's the other way round. That's correct, on some level; and in a perfect world this would be the whole truth. But on a different level, people also perceive nice behavior as weakness; especially if you do it habitually, as if you don't have any other option. And being an asshole obviously signals strength: you are not afraid to make other people angry. Also, in long term, people become used to your behavior, good or bad. The nice people don't seem so nice anymore, but they still seem weak. Then, ironicaly, if the person well-known to be nice refuses to do something once, people become really angry, because their expectations were violated. And if the asshole decides to do something nice once, they will praise him, because he surprised them pleasantly. You should be an asshole once in a while, to make people see that you have a choice, so they won't take your niceness for granted. Or if your girlfriend wants something from you, sometimes just say no, even if you could have done it. She will respect you more, and then she will enjoy more the things you do for her."

Filip: "Well, I... probably couldn't do that. I mean, what you say seems to make sense, however much I hate to admit it. But I can't imagine doing it myself, especially to a person I love. It's just... uhm... wrong."

"Then, I guess, the very least you could do is to ask her to do something for you first. Even if it's symbolic, that doesn't matter; human relationships are mostly about role-playing anyway. Don't jump immediately when you are told to; always make her jump first, if only a little. That will demonstrate strength without hurting anyone. Could you do that?"

Filip wasn't sure, but at the next opportunity he tried it, and it worked. And it kept working. Maybe it was all just a coincidence, maybe it was a placebo effect, but Filip doesn't mind. At first it felt kinda artificial, but then it became natural. And later, to his surprise, Filip realized that practicing these symbolic demands actually makes it easier to ask when he really needed something. (In which case sometimes he was asked to do something first, because his girlfriend -- knowingly or not? he never had the courage to ask -- copied the pattern; or maybe she has already known it long before. But he didn't mind that either.)

 

The lesson is: If you find yourself repeatedly in situations where people ask you to do something for them, but at the end they don't seem to appreciate what you did for them, or don't even care about the thing they asked you to do... and yet you find it difficult to say "no"... ask them to contribute to the project first.

This will help you get rid of the projects they don't care about (including the ones they think they care about in far mode, but do not care about enough to actually work on them in near mode) without being the one who refuses cooperation. Also, the act of asking the other person to contribute, after being asked to do something for them, mitigates the status loss inherent in working for them.

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As a high school teacher, I use this tactic all the time. I have to, or I would be overwhelmed by the many requests from parents that seem perfectly reasonable from their perspective but which become mathematically impossible in the aggregate.

"I think each teacher should check my son's agenda every day and sign off on whether they did their classwork and whether they have homework."

"Of course. Not a problem. As long as he brings it to me at the end of every class period filled out and ready for my signature, this should not be an issue."

Three days later -- often less -- the practice discontinues with no word from anyone.

Another example, by email: "I would like to meet with you this week about my daughter's grade."

I deliberately wait between 4 and 24 hours. And then:

"Of course. I'm available every day after school until..."

9 times out of 10 I'll never hear from the parent again. Ever. It's easy to rattle off an email to a teacher when you're mad at your kid, and it's easy to let a teacher make an appointment for you, but the trivial inconvenience of deciding on and committing to your own appointment time, combined with the cool-off period I created before responding, almost always leaves the ball dead in their court. And I think they feel too silly about it all afterwards to even talk to me again.

Oh well. Guess it wasn't that important to you.

Yeah, this is a dark art. Selective application is key. I really am there to help. But I use judicious social engineering to filter many of the demands I could end up committed to. Hopefully, I'm letting the ones through where I can actually do some good.

Do keep in mind that if a friend actually follows through, you've significantly raised the stakes of saying "no" later.

I understood quite clearly that he wouldn't have said "no" earlier so this is a significant improvement. But yes, I understand your comment as reminding readers that they may have less problems of saying "no" initially and for them it may make things more difficult instead of improving things.

Absolutely - so don't be insincere in the setup. If you think "no way", say "no way".

not mentioned: Counter-perspective example.

Example 1:
V1:
"My computer broke, plz help"
V2:
"I was running Ubuntu version XXX, and some large graphing software, for some reason my computer crashed with an error (error number XXX "description"), I thought it was Y, so I tried J, K, L, so I ruled out Y, and also Z as the cause. I have been at this for 5 hours right now, do you know the system? Can you suggest tests that I have not tried yet?"

Example 2:
V1:
"teach me spanish"
V2:
"I want to learn Spanish but I don't know how, can you tell me the first few steps on how to get started then I can come back after that's done and ask you more questions?"

Explanation: If you want someone to help you; offer your contributions when you do it.

Yes, that's the complementary part. So the full story -- for both players -- is:

A: If you ask someone to help you, offer your contributions.

B: If someone asks you to help, without offering contributions, ask for them explicitly.

B: If you won't get contributions even upon request, feel free to ignore the issue.

I wish I'd read this 3 years ago.

Yup. I learned the business version of this early in my consulting career. One of my consultant buddies, David Schmaltz, calls it a "Dedication Test". It's a small habit with huge positive effects.

"Then, I guess, the very least you could do is to ask her to do something for you first. Even if it's symbolic, that doesn't matter; human relationships are mostly about role-playing anyway. Don't jump immediately when you are told to; always make her jump first, if only a little. That will demonstrate strength without hurting anyone. Could you do that?"

That reminds me of the Leadership Moment Quota from MMSL.

[-][anonymous]5y 2

The lesson is: If you find yourself repeatedly in situations where people ask you to do something for them, but at the end they don't seem to appreciate what you did for them, or don't even care about the thing they asked you to do... and yet you find it difficult to say "no"... ask them to contribute to the project first.

This will help you get rid of the projects they don't care about (including the ones they think they care about in far mode, but do not care about enough to actually work on them in near mode) without being the one who refuses cooperation. Also, the act of asking the other person to contribute, after being asked to do something for them, mitigates the status loss inherent in working for them.

My personal experience confirms this! One of the benefits of being transparent.

"All human interaction is manipulation

Does anybody knows who came up with that sentiment? I'm searching some good quotes that express the idea. Maybe there's a book or article that steelman's it?

Not sure if I read it or reinvented it, but seems like one of the Sleight of Mouth NLP patterns.

For example, when someone accuses you of manipulation, you can try the strategy of wild generalization "everything in this universe is manipulation; even when a photon hits an electron, it is manipulating it", or you can focus on details and insist that each detail taken separately is okay "dude, I just pressed a few keys on my keyboard and clicked a mouse button; either tell me which of those keys was the 'manipulation' you are talking about, or quit accusing me of that epiphenomenal bullshit", or go meta "you know what is manipulation? accusing other people of manipulation!", etc.

Essentially, the book is a Clever Arguer Handbook. Not sure if it is the exact opposite or LW, or a reverse-psychological way to show you how all the clever arguing is just juggling with the meaningless noises. I haven't actually read the book, only the summary, but even that already contains a lot of memetic toxins.

Looks a lot like the Worst Argument in the World.

Clever arguing is the sort of thing we should try to avoid as much as possible. You might be able to shut someone up by making one of these arguments just by the other person's lack of available retort, but you aren't going to actually change their mind or have their feelings about you improve.

Looks a lot like the Worst Argument in the World.

Yes. That's a great description! This specific Dark Art is about how to find the suitable noncentral argument quickly; it provides a few general directions where to look.

Clever arguing is the sort of thing we should try to avoid as much as possible.

Depends. But if the goal is to find the truth, then yes.

you aren't going to actually change their mind or have their feelings about you improve.

Well, if you do it right, you are going to influence them. That's exactly why people do it. Of course, if you do it wrong, it may backfire.

For example, when someone accuses you of manipulation, you can try the strategy of wild generalization "everything in this universe is manipulation; even when a photon hits an electron, it is manipulating it", or you can focus on details and insist that each detail taken separately is okay "dude, I just pressed a few keys on my keyboard and clicked a mouse button; either tell me which of those keys was the 'manipulation' you are talking about, or quit accusing me of that epiphenomenal bullshit", or go meta "you know what is manipulation? accusing other people of manipulation!", etc.

All deliberate human interaction is manipulation, in something the same way that everything you touch is made of atoms. The issue there isn't wild generalization, it's that "manipulation", as a specific reference for a specific class of human behaviors, is fuzzy to the point of uselessness. It doesn't carve the world at any useful joints.

I think that notion is implicitely in a lot of places, but I'm seeking for a explicit expression of it that I can reference for an article that I'm writing.

Is there a specific quote from Adler about manipulation? Googling "Alfred Adler" manipulation doesn't give me good results.

Given that Adler seems to be a theist, I'm also not sure whether he thinks that way.

He was the inferiority complex guy ...

"The striving for significance, this sense of yearning, always points out to us that all psychological phenomena contain a movement that starts from a feeling of inferiority and reach upward. The theory of Individual Psychology of psychological compensation states that the stronger the feeling of inferiority, the higher the goal for personal power." (From a new translation of "Progress in Individual Psychology," [1923] a journal article by Alfred Adler, in the AAISF/ATP Archives.

... everything is about the struggle to gain power over others, which can become pathological ...

"The soul under pressure of the feeling of inferiority, of the torturing thought that the individual is small and helpless, attempts with all its might to become master over this inferiority complex. Where the feeling of inferiority is highly intensified to the degree that the child believes that he will never be able to compensate for his weakness, the danger arises that in his striving for overcompensation, will aim to overbalance the scales. The striving for power and dominance may become exaggerated and intensified until it must be called pathological. The ordinary relationships of life will never satisfy such children. Well adapted to their goal, their movements will have to have a certain grandiose gesture about them. They seek to secure their position in life with extraordinary efforts, with greater haste and impatience, with more intense impulses, without consideration of any one else. Through these exaggerated movements toward their exaggerated goal of dominance these children become more noticeable, their attacks on the lives of others necessitate that they defend their own lives. They are against the world, and the world is against them." (From "The Feeling of Inferiority and the Striving for Recognition," [1927] a journal article by Alfred Adler, in the AAISF/ATP Archives.

According to those quotes a lot of people are manipulative because of inferiority complexes.

The ordinary relationships of life will never satisfy such children.

That suggests that he only talks about some children and not all children. Some children are manipulative for those reasons but that doens't mean all of them are.

My understanding is that Alder thought we all start with an inferiority complex because we all start as small, weak children.

Even if that's true, I don't think it implies that all "All human interaction is manipulation". It only implies that a lot of it is at it's driven by an inferiority complex.

I think "all human interaction is manipulation" is false on its face. I was putting forward Adler as a candidate for being a modern root of this meme. His teachings are still quite influential.

I think "all human interaction is manipulation" is false on its face.

The fact that you consider a statement to be false on its face doesn't mean that there nobody in support of it. Pointing me to a different meme is besides the point.

Please be a little bit more charitable. He pointed you to a quite relevant quote and gave examples. That this source doesn't exactly cover what you want covered is not his fault. He can't read your mind.

I think that clarity of distinguishing different ideas from each other is useful. I think that it's bad to be to vague to be wrong. In this case I think that _rpd simply switched from one meme to a different meme. I don't think it takes mind reading to see the difference between A: "all human interaction is manipulation" and B: "a lot of human interaction is manipulation because people are acting out of inferority" .

A get's used to justify that being manipulative isn't bad, because everybody is always manipualtive. B doesn't lend itself to that conclusion and is thus a completely different meme.

In particular A get's used that way in this article. Asking for favors that way might be manipulative but that doesn't matter as all communication is manipulative.

Now somebody will steal the idea about bikeshops.