Ways to manipulate expert opinion
Who are the experts?
Modern designs are mostly complex. If it seems to you that the project is simple, then you most likely either do not have a complete set of necessary information, or use ready-made technological “building blocks”, or are an expert. A technical expert is someone who knows the technologies and how to use them well enough so that his advice or his actions positively influence the project in terms of the quality of results, risks, budgets and other project parameters. Typically, a technical expert grows (or rather grows) “from within” his industry. Technical experts from the academic community, from the financial community, from among cabinet managers in the wild almost never occur. Exceptions are so rare that it’s easier to assume that we are dealing with another quack simulator. The rare Ostap Bender will miss the opportunity to dust the brains of provincial chess players, devour them for free and cut down some easy money. But in this article we will not talk about charlatans, but focus on the life of real experts.
The help of a technical expert in projects is reduced to the following set of actions performed in any combination:
- Information support for customer decision making. This includes the preparation of analytical notes, presentations (including their holding), expert opinions, etc., as well as personal participation in meetings, conferences, exhibitions and other face-to-face events conducted by the client.
- Quality control of technical projects. As a rule, this includes working with TK, project documentation, schedules, etc. down to the analysis of profiles and resumes of team members.
- Direct participation in the development of design solutions, from participation in brainstorming sessions to the development of project documentation (or coordination of this activity).
- Knowledge transfer, mentoring, implementation of best practices. It happens that people themselves want to learn how to do something better. Most often this is what their superiors want. Nevertheless, the technical expert has certain hopes.
The expert receives money for the above actions. Very often, an expert is invited to one role, but then they try to force other roles from the list to be performed. Sometimes this is done intentionally in order to get a job for free, but more often it happens involuntarily as the confidence in the expert increases. Such needs to be appreciated and be prepared to fulfill the maximum of the proposed work. Of course, expert remuneration schemes should be flexible and should provide for such situations (for example, be hourly, like lawyers do). If the expert is internal (poor fellow at the rate), then the list of his duties is formed naturally in the course of the project and naturally is constantly growing. Which, however, rarely affects his income.
When a technical expert is invited to the project, it is assumed that he is already "prepared", and knows everything that is required. Nobody cares about the price at which the expert got his knowledge, the expenses that he incurred, the time he spent on training, studying the documentation and systematizing the experience. Experts should not forget about this when discussing the amount of remuneration for their work, which the customer seeks to calculate at the "average hospital" rate for specialists from some recruiting site such as HH.
In order not to go too far from the topic, further in the text we will assume that the expert is well motivated to do his job efficiently.
Why would someone manipulate expert opinion?
Despite the fact that such a question sounds somewhat naive, it is important to understand very well the reasons for people's actions. It's no secret that technical people rarely have the proper level of empathy and developed emotional intelligence, which allows them to act confidently in conditions of complex relationships within the project team. Techies tend to unnecessarily rationalize the behavior of other people, to seek (or even invent) the causes of certain actions, assuming that all key participants act exclusively in the interests of the goals and objectives of the project. Generally speaking, from the fact that the expert acts in the interests of the project, it does not at all follow that other participants in the project adhere to the same practice. Most people are irrational creatures, prone to emotions. If they make rational decisions, then it’s far from a fact that their rationality applies to the project. People always do things in their own individual context, which consists of many layers - previous events, relationships with others, character traits, expectations and a common vision of the future, feelings and emotions, etc.
The workhorses of the project are engineers, technicians, programmers. Compared with an expert, these people have a relatively narrow horizons and a rather one-sided understanding of the situation. There is nothing wrong with this, it is enough that each of them is good in his work, often requiring complete immersion and specialized skills. Sometimes experts have ideas. Specialists their ideas seem undoubtedly worthy of attention, they go up with them and get there their rightful (or undeserved) tub of cold water on their heads. Because in the context of the entire project, these ideas may lose their importance, their implementation can adversely affect neighboring areas of the project and all that. Ideas “from the ground” - the first place in the conflict between the expert and line specialists.
The opposition of line specialists is connected exclusively with the protective reaction that occurs when they feel the danger. Everyone who acts in the "field", who honestly performs their duties, takes at their own peril and risk many small but important decisions. Which managers may not even be aware of. Specialists may hide their “jambs”, shortcomings, they may be afraid of losing influence and authority. In poorly organized teams, line specialists often specifically focus on key issues, thereby trying to further strengthen their position in the organization. An expert can easily identify such bottlenecks and destroy a cozy world created over the years.
People in vain consider themselves rational beings. Under the influence of fear, linear experts feel dislike for experts, and all that has to be dealt with is unconstructive criticism, eternal opposition to all innovations, even sabotage - all this is a rationalization of fear. It is often easier and more effective to work with fear as the root cause, rather than trying to fight off numerous attacks and inappropriate criticism that will never end.
Managers have no less reason to fear experts. Especially if the expert is going to give advice in terms of methods and methods for performing certain tasks. During the reengineering of processes, the redistribution of influence between the participants is inevitable, as well as its sharp devaluation in absolute value. That is, literally every manager becomes less influential. It is not surprising that it is precisely from the small bosses that we receive the maximum and fierce rebuff.
Bosses larger than experts are not afraid. For them, an expert is not a threat, but a means to an end. The goal may be to choose a “pocket” performer that is profitable for a personal pocket of a technical solution, eliminate competitors at court (in the case of organizational reengineering), and so on. In the court struggle, expert opinion is a very significant weapon, which, like a ram, can destroy any fortification piles of “dear colleagues”.
Getting to the manipulation. Work with written results
The results of the work of experts are presentations and text documents. The only available manipulation when working with written documents is editing and distortion of these materials. No need to be afraid of serious editing - such actions are too noticeable and require comparable expert knowledge. Usually limited to elementary tricks:
- Pulling out of context. We take one plate or page we need, give a link to the document. It is unlikely that anyone will get into studying the source. For example, if a document or presentation has a table with “pluses” and a table with “minuses”, it is very simple to take either one or the other in your material. Tip - do not break the pros and cons into two different slides, make a common table.
- Removing inconvenient paragraphs or lines in functional analysis under the guise of a “resume." With skillful handling, this method works wonders, changing the original idea beyond recognition. Advice - stitch paragraphs with logical connections, often refer to other parts of the document. Give numbered lists instead of bullets and refer to numbers. Don’t be afraid if the document looks a little strange, it's still not a novel.
A tightly stitched document containing a summary at the beginning and at the end, in which the main idea is repeated in different ways, riddled with links to sections, diagrams and tables, will become a real hell for a manipulator seeking to distort its essence when quoting.
If you need to give a series of slides in the presentation that consistently reveal a thought, use small diagrams in the corner of the slide, use the subscript in the heading “Slide X from Y”, etc. Any technique that doesn’t allow it is so easy
Manipulating an Expert Opinion “in Real Time”
Experts are often invited to meetings where they must answer questions, present their materials, or simply attend, giving the meeting a special touch. The task of the manipulator in this case is to force the expert to say the necessary words that those present must remember and which will be entered into the protocol (which, by the way, the expert usually does not even see).
As a rule, in the case of face-to-face meetings, the bosses are big bosses. Such a boss can boredly listen to an expert report without even asking him questions. But as soon as the expert says the right words, they interrupt him and begin to confuse.
The easiest way to illustrate this technique is with an example. Let's say there are two software products - A and B. Product A is a multi-functional monster, it is three times more expensive and covers 100% of the requirements, and also contains another 200% of unnecessary functions. Product B is three times cheaper, it is niche and covers 70% of the required functions, requiring the company to get the remaining 30% using other products and their integration. The expert intends to offer product B, which, taking into account all the additional costs, comes out to be two times cheaper than product A upon purchase and three times cheaper during operation. But Product Sales Manager A recently visited one of the bosses with an “interesting offer.”
Imagine now that at a meeting an expert reports on the results of his research.
Expert:Product A is the market leader in its segment, it is a powerful corporate solution ...
Boss: Tell me, does product A meet our requirements 100%?
Expert: Yes, it meets our requirements 100%, but ...
Boss: And product B meets our requirements 100%?
Expert: No, product B meets our requirements by 70%, but ...
Boss: Please record in the protocol that product B does not fully comply with our requirements.
And now we will help our imaginary expert a bit not to sit in a puddle in the same situation.
Expert:Despite the fact that product A is the market leader in its segment, it has excessive functionality compared to product B ...
Boss: Tell me, does product A meet our requirements 100%?
Expert: The functionality of product A exceeds our requirements by 200%, which negatively affects its cost.
Boss: Does product B meet our requirements 100%?
Expert: Product B covers most of our requirements (please refer to my report for details), and also has extensive integration capabilities to realize the full range of functions using the auxiliary software products listed on page 123 of my report.
I would like to separately recall the difference between the concepts of knowledge and skill . We know how to behave, what to say, what to do. But when it comes to practice, for some reason we do not do what we need, but often as the manipulator needs. Unfortunately, during face-to-face battles in negotiations, knowledge alone is not enough, strong skills in applying knowledge, which are formed only in practice , are necessary . Therefore, there is nothing shameful in falling into the bait of the manipulator one, two or three times. But for the fourth time it is necessary either to learn already, or to think about changing the type of activity.
The most common way to manipulate expert opinion from big and small bosses. The expert in the chess game of the project is a pretty strong figure - if not a queen, then an officer for sure. The difference between the project and the chess game is that in the project not all pieces go as they should. An expert is an exception - he almost always walks as it should. And manipulators actively use this property of him.
The expert aims at the success of the project, that the project fits into certain parameters (timelines, budgets, etc.). In the part of the project entrusted to the expert, he seeks to take into account and do everything possible to achieve the goal, even through compromises. It is the propensity for compromise that is the Achilles heel of the expert. The need for compromise arises where it is impossible to “fit in” with the available means. The expert fully owns the technical content, knows the strengths and weaknesses of certain solutions, knows the limits of component modifications, taking into account possible technical risks.
In order to force an expert to make a specific decision necessary for the manipulator, it is enough to work with external conditions and initial data. Big bosses have plenty of such opportunities.
Let us return to our example with products A and B. The expert, all other things being equal, is going to prefer product B. But the manipulator requires the expert to voluntarily advise product A. What can the manipulator do?
- Work in related fields. For example, gathering reports on failed implementations of product B for an expert and supplementing them with reports on the unthinkable successes of buyers of product A. To do this, just take the real stories of the introduction of product B and the marketing promises for product A that look very similar in appearance, except that the first - true. This also includes a link to successful experience in operating A products in neighboring companies.
- To offer the expert a pre-prepared form for presenting data - for example, a set of criteria for functional comparison, including the functions of product A, which product B. obviously does not have. It’s easier to submit it under the guise of “corporate standards”.
- Work with project risks in terms of timelines. For example, if the delivery of product B takes a month, and product A is shipped in a week, you can tighten the situation and seek advice three weeks before the deadline. Then the expert will not consider product B at all.
- Work with project risks in terms of budgets. If you let an expert know that the company is jam-packed with employees trained in using product A, and the system administrators do not want to hear about the manuals for product A, he will take into account the lower operating costs of product A compared to the cheaper price , but requiring retraining of employees product B.
- Work with design requirements. Non-functional requirements “in excess of TK” are a favorite technique. Link to external requirements, including informal so-called compliance. The most common case is a game with information security. This topic is muddy, allowing references to mythical and not very “people in uniform”, their suddenly arising “impassable requirements”, various “voluntary” certification, references to GOSTs that allow free interpretation, etc. Any expert understands that it’s more expensive to touch the feed base of “information security experts” without good reason.
- Work with the amount of information. Sometimes thirty volumes of a technical design are downloaded to an expert and given three days for analysis. You can’t refuse. Give a full conclusion - too.
The advice in this section is commonplace, but they need to be spoken out again so that a holistic picture is formed in the memory.
Compare apples to apples. In the product function comparison tables, it is extremely dangerous to leave empty cells with dashes next to the function name. A rare customer understands the need for a particular function, and a dash understands clearly - this is bad. There should be fewer dashes. An exception can be made only for the analysis of TK coverage. But even there for each dash there should be a link to another product that covers the requirements. Unclosed requirements in the table are a direct way to ban for the product. Because in fact such “dashes” unload responsibility from the expert to the customer. And if an expert knows what to do with this responsibility, then the customer does not know (that is why he hired an expert).
Check the information received from independent sources where possible. Communicate more with simple performers - as a rule, they do not receive instructions from managers regarding the delivery of information or, as usual, take the liberty of interpreting these instructions in their own way.
Demandthe necessary information in full! It is important to clearly understand what you are investing in the concept of "full volume" (in the form of a list). If this is not possible, in the report in several key places, mention that the report is prepared on the basis of an incomplete set of documents (be sure to list which one). No need to release the manipulator, which was obliged to provide you with the source data, from responsibility for their completeness. If you had the luxury of preliminary negotiations with a client on the organization of expert work, passing him a list of the required initial data, mention that you will have to fill in the missing data for an interview, which will require an increase in the length of the preliminary data collection stage.
The simpler the question that the expert must answer, the more information he must shovel. Top managers are not interested in the details. They don’t need you to hang on them the responsibility of choosing product A or product B, company A or company B. If, as a result of your activity, there is no single choice, and there is only a comparison table for three thousand lines, this is equivalent to no result at all. It is clear that there is a conclusion with input parameters: if X then A, and if Y, then B. But there is no need to hide your insolvency or lack of input data behind such "parameters". You, as an expert, receive money for simplifying the world, and not for making it harder.
PS If I want to express myself, I ask you to take into account that the article sets out a structured personal experience, therefore, on the one hand, it does not claim universality, and on the other hand, it makes no sense to challenge personal experience, as well as to contrast its own personal experience.