How to influence without manipulating


Right at the start of Zoomly’s ‘How to influence and persuade’ workshop, we discuss the importance of influencing for mutual benefit. If that’s your goal, chances are you won’t sink to using manipulation, which is a concern people naturally have about this topic. The simple way to decide if someone’s influencing or manipulating is if we can’t see how what they’re suggesting will benefit us. They’re going after what they want, but their intentions don’t extend to us.

The only way to achieve the unicorn-like ‘Win:Win’ agreement is for both parties to achieve a clear understanding of what Win is for each other. If we pursue a goal without that integrity we’re manipulating. We’ll get a Win:Lose – we win at the other’s expense – which may be a short-term victory. But it won’t last. Worse, it could come back to bite us further down the road.

Here’s a handy set of DOs and DON’Ts for influencing, to help you get a Win for both parties – and keep your integrity intact.


Make statements
Statements like ‘I think it’s a bad decision’ set the speaker up in opposition, passing adverse judgement on the other party – who is now unlikely to view the situation favourably. Statements indicate a stand is being taken and can lead to impasse.

How disposed to agree do you feel when you’re being constantly interrupted? We can respond in different ways: steadily being worn down to the point of giving up (and being very resentful), or ‘increasingly frustrated and angry that we’re not being heard. It’s not going to end well. By the way, Yeah but…’ should be banished from your influencing repertoire.

Use threats
OK, if you have to discipline someone for unacceptable behaviour, you will need to spell out the consequences if there’s any recurrence (and you checked with HR first, didn’t you). Threats are characteristic of Win:Lose situations and are unlikely to broker lasting agreement.


Prepare for the conversation
Whether it’s a 1:1 with your boss or a high stakes presentation, time taken to prepare will pay off for both parties. Consider what the other person would see as a Win – what’s in it for them? What do they need? What do they value? And what’s a Win for you?

Use ‘and instead of ‘but’
‘And’ is invaluable in conversations when weighing up what you want and what the other party wants. The difference is striking. Compare ‘you want this by Friday but I’m concerned about the quality’ v ‘You want this by Friday and I’m concerned about the quality’. The former suggests the speaker’s priorities are more important than the other party’s. The latter suggests that both are equally important and is more likely to sustain useful discussion.

Use open questions to explore what’s important
Ask open questions – How, Where, Who, When – to explore what’s going on for the other party and what would be a Win for them. Avoid ‘Why’ – it can come over as too challenging. Sure, you may need to find out why, just use a different question to elicit answers.

Use closed questions to check you understand
A closed question tends to elicit either ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ (compared to open questions, that open up the dialogue). Some sales training can be quite damning about closed questions and I can see why; lazy salespeople can stick to a checklist of well-worn questions. But closed questions have their uses, particularly for checking understanding and summarising, e.g. ‘Can I just check I’ve understood – you’re happy to push the deadline back so long as the budget isn’t exceeded?’

Listen well
Listen really hard to what the other person is saying – and how they’re saying it. Show you’re listening – without interrupting – using body language and verbal cues (‘aha’, ‘mmmm… I see…’).

Make suggestions
Unlike making statements, suggestions keep options open. The language is less definite, more exploratory, e.g. ‘Suppose we tried it this way with that group and the other way with another’, or ‘how about we share ideas for having both?’

Be open to others’ suggestions
If you’re asking the right questions, exploring options with the other party and listening well to their responses, your dialogue will progress to coming up with ideas. Be open to the other party’s suggestions – even if you’re thinking ‘now why didn’t I think of that?’

If you want to find out more about workshops that help people influence without manipulating, please get in touch. 

You may find this blog post useful: 7 steps to better collaboration

Dawn is the author of ‘The Feedback Book’ and ‘How to be Zoomly at work’

Image credit: Influence concept @72soul/ Deposit Photos

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