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Techniques General persuasion > More methods > Whistleblowing

Description | Example | Discussion | See also



To persuade, you can threaten to tell a person or organization about a transgression against a hard rule unless they do as you ask.

There are many people and organizations with a keen interest in getting things done properly and with the authority or influence to make this happen. Many industries have standards bodies or ombudsmen that can be contacted when a company is not following set rules. Companies also have internal policies, service level agreements, specifications and so on. When dealing with individuals, their manager and others more senior may be contacted. There is also legal redress with the police or lawyers that may be brought in.

Rather than say you are going to take such action, you can use this slowly, hinting at it first as a regretful step ('I don't want to have to take this further') and then steadily becoming more explicit ('RSD rules forbid your actions') before making demands ('If you don't clear up I'll report it').

This principle can also be used in social situations, where the rules used are values. In such a situation the threat is to tell others who would disapprove of what the target person has said or done. This is a common method for 'training' people to follow social rules.

Before using this, get your facts right, including the detail of be case, sources of authority and rules broken. Also be firm and ready to take it all the way.


Do as you are told or else I'll have to tell your father what you did.

Given what you have done, I would be justified in calling in the DFA. However, I'd rather settle this between us now.

Go away or else I'll call the police.


Whistleblowing is often associated with exposure of large organizations, such as big company illegality or government corruptions, yet it is also used as a persuasive method on a daily basis, where 'I'll tell on you' is a common game that children play and adults continue in other forms.

Using the whistleblower threat to get what you want is a form of blackmail, based on the principle of 'Do this or I'll do that'. While it can be aggressively coercive it can also be legitimate and appropriate. It can even be supportive as you try to get the other person to follow rules not yet broken.

Given the potentially severe consequences for all involved, including you (whistleblowers tend not to be liked), do think carefully about this. Think also about your own transgressions ('skeletons in the closet') which may be exposed in a recriminative way. Also consider the legitimacy of your not telling, and using the situation for personal gain. When you collude, you become a part of the cover-up and may yet be found guilty of this.

Threatening to expose wrong-doing to the appropriate authorities can be a very powerful tactic and may work when more collaborative and friendly methods do not work. You may also conclude that serious transgressions you discover must be reported anyway as a matter of ethical principle. In such cases the negotiation should probably be halted.

See also

Negotiation Tactics


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