If you believe someone will comply with your request (reasonable or not) simply because you have asked, how can that be coercion? In this culture, it is often assumed that if you are asking for something, you are doing so out of need, and if you are ordering someone, you are doing so because you have the authority to do so. An excerpt from this article below gives a few fine examples of this phenomenon:
“He arranged for 22 nurses working in a large hospital to be rung, separately, by a man simply calling himself, “Dr Smith”. Dr Smith told each of the nurses that he wanted them to give 20mg of a drug called Astroten to a patient, who he named. Dr Smith also told the nurses that he was on his way to the hospital and would sign the necessary paperwork when he arrived.
The drug, an invention of the experimenters, had been placed in the drug cabinet several days before the telephone call with a prominent warning on its side that 10mg was the maximum safe dose. Despite this, and despite the fact that hospital protocol specifically stated that no drug should ever be administered based solely on a phone call, 21 out of the 22 nurses were preparing to give the 20mg dose when they were stopped. The nurses had bowed to the imagined authority of the ‘doctor’.”
An example of compliance due to a perceived need:
“Milgram went with his students on to the New York subway. Their task was to approach passengers on the train and say, pleasantly: “I’d like your seat, please”. As Milgram pointed out beforehand, “if you ask a New Yorker if he would give up his seat to a man who gives no reason for asking, he would say ‘never’. But what would he really do?” The answer was that in just over half of all cases people gave up their seats when asked.
Recently I decided to repeat this experiment in a busy London shopping centre, with similar results. I was surprised by how many people complied with my completely unreasonable request, but even more surprised by how uncomfortable I found asking them to do it, something Milgram also discovered.
“I was about to say the words ‘excuse me, sir, may I have your seat,’ but I found something very interesting, there was an enormous inhibition, the words wouldn’t come out, I simply couldn’t utter them, there was this terrible restraint against saying this phrase.”
Although it was unexpected, Milgram thought that this was a hugely significant finding. He had found through his own personal experience just how important feeling socially awkward is when it comes to modifying behavior. We don’t like breaking the social rules – whether it’s asking for somebody’s seat, or disobeying the instructions of somebody whose authority we have accepted.”
Not many of us like haggling either. It’s when asking for a lower price, we are either implying a need, or implying the authority to do so. If no need exists, it becomes even more difficult. A need is tangible. You want something but you cannot afford it, so if you want it bad enough you’ll be willing to make the leap to haggle/barter or resort to more unorthodox methods of acquisition.
The implication of authority is harder for most. It can only be accomplished with a hefty dose of confidence and projection of imagined authority.
As a negotiator, I was asked to do just that. Project authority. The job entails requesting things you have no right or authority to request. Knowing exactly how much you can ask for before the other party questions your motives. Part of the training requires you to ask for at least 5 things from 5 different people over the course of the week. A better grade in a class. A discount on your car. Literally, asking someone to give up a seat on a park bench. For no other reason than to break down the social conditioning that makes each of us afraid to ask.
In some ways, it makes sense as a survival related social development, as in a sense it is crying wolf. It is assumed that if you ask for the seat, you need it. If everyone asked for it, no one would get it, even those that had a true need.
This, however, gives a leg up to those willing to use their the system for their own benefit without regard for others. Those willing to project authority to coerce or manipulate others.
Where is the line? Am I manipulating a car sales man knowing that he’ll bring the price down $1000, throw in a roof rack and a 5 year warranty? In many ways, it’s no different than asking someone to administer an electric shock. You’re asking for something, and simulating the authority to do so.
In this case, I believe the difference is the self interest of those accepting your authority. So long as you have not asked for too much, it’s in the car salesman’s best interest to comply with your request. He still makes the sale. How does it benefit the manager in the example below to comply with the request to strip search his employees?
“There was a recent example of the continuing tendency towards blind obedience in the USA when a con man, dubbed ‘the modern Milgram’, made the staff of dozens of fast-food restaurants behave in an appalling fashion simply by ringing up and pretending to be a policeman.
He persuaded managers to strip-search their staff in search of stolen goods, to make them jog naked, even to strip off and appear naked in front of startled customers. One manager, who strip-searched an employee and was subsequently jailed, said, ‘I didn’t want to do it, but it was like he was making me’.”
If someone chooses to consent to something with is against their best interests, they have failed to think. They have blindly accepted your authority. Acted as sheep.
However, this is where my reasoning falls apart. I do not wish to project authority to cause someone to do something against their best interests. But why? What makes this different? I’d really welcome other thoughts and perspectives to help bring this idea into fullness.