Helping the Chronically Overworked Find Life Balance

A Lesson About Manipulation At Work From Survivor

Edna, the annoying anesthesiologist who was the sixth wheel in an alliance of five in Survivor South Pacific went off on fellow players for whining about being manipulated.

The inherent ingredient [in Survivor] is manipulation.  The majority of time we are going to be manipulated.  We should not hold any hard feelings because we signed up for this.  We voluntarily came her to be duped and these people did it successfully.

She is so right.  No one likes being manipulated, but guess what?  When you join a company, you are signing up for a set of rules, and manipulation is hardly out of bounds.  It is a manager’s job to keep his or her employees motivated and working hard.  And part of good management is manipulation.  One director from a mid-sized company in the Mountain West put it like this:

As a manager it works to your advantage when people are ultra dedicated, but it also it breaks my heart when people were so upset about their project being cut. It’s a little manipulative to say “well look this isn’t your whole life” after encouraging that level of devotion to the project in the first place.  Many employees would calm right down after they heard that.

I think we all have a bit of a tendency to think ‘it can’t happen to me,’ and to ignore the signs.  Once upon a time, I thought my work was so good I was above politics.  And, I was one of the mission-driven crowd.  The company was out to change the world, and I was helping to make it happen.  But, some people took advantage of my zeal, and I was really upset when I realized that some people were just out for themselves.

On Survivor, it was a bit hard to see whether Edna’s comment had much of an effect on the other players who were so upset that they had been manipulated.  I am not in any way justifying manipulative behavior within the corporate world or elsewhere.  But, manipulation is a reality, even from the good people.  To quote Michael Chabon, “It is my experience that honest people live by the contracts they sign.  Not a tittle more.”  Or to quote Don King, “You get what you negotiate for, not what you deserve.”

My advice: look after your own self-interest, and learn the rules of the game.  No one else can do that for you.  By working for that company, you signed up to play by their set of rules.  When something feels unfair, some person you trusted hung you out to dry, or some manipulative person is ‘getting away with it’, don’t waste your energy getting mad.  You signed up for it.  Learn to play better, or better yet, find a different game.


  1. Greg Marcus says

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