Influencing isn’t manipulating – keep it R.E.A.L.

The word ‘influence’ is defined by as, “The capacity to have an effect on the character, development, or behaviour of someone or something, or the effect itself” and, “The power to shape policy or ensure favourable treatment from someone, especially through status, contacts, or wealth; examples include someone “being a good influence [on another person]”, or “under the influence [of alcohol or drugs]”.

Doesn’t exactly sound wholesome, does it? Which is why one of the first things I get groups to establish in Zoomly’s ‘How to influence and persuade’ workshop is the difference between what I call ‘positive influencing’ – ‘influencing with both parties’ interests at heart, and ‘negative influencing’ – manipulating. Some participants show up thinking they’re in for a primer on how to achieve one’s own ends, whether that works for the other party or not (even if they feel somewhat uneasy about it). So I’ve found it’s vital to establish a working definition.

To ensure we influence with integrity (the title of Genie Z. Laborde’s wonderful book on the topic) we need to keep it R.E.A.L. What does that mean, and how does it show up?


One of the reasons manipulation comes back to bite us is that it’s fundamentally disrespectful. Positive influencing requires us to act with integrity and have genuine respect for the other person/people. This shows up as wanting to achieve an outcome that’s mutually beneficial, not putting one over on someone. It also means we need to think things through ahead of conversations with them, and be patient. Without respect, we can’t build trust.


When we see the situation through the other person’s eyes, we’re much better able to focus on what’s going on for them. What do they want? (And what don’t they want?) We can only achieve the much sought-after WIN:WIN if we figure out not just what a WIN would be for us, but also what a WIN would be for them – and how we can help that happen. How to find out what someone’s WIN is? Ask the right questions, with the aim of learning what matters to them. Empathy means seeing (hearing and feeling) the situation from their perspective.


Clue: fiddling with your smartphone or some other form of distraction isn’t actively listening. We need to harness all that disk space in our heads and really focus on what the other person says in response to our respectful questions. Paying attention to what they say is only the first part: we need to listen out for how they’re saying it, and what they’re not saying. What words come up again and again? Beware a tendency we all have to ‘reload’, meaning to formulate our smart riposte whilst someone’s still speaking and not fully hearing them out. Summarising to check agreement throughout the conversation shows you’re listening and keeps both parties on track.


Active listening will help you fine-tune your own language to communicate more effectively with the other person; but words are only part of the deal. Pay attention to your voice; and theirs, and practise adjusting your pace and tone to achieve greater rapport. Remember that body language; non-verbal communications such as our facial expression, posture, gestures, even our breathing rate; is a major influencer. We’re constantly sending, receiving and interpreting our own and other people’s non-verbal communications.

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

Dawn is the author of ‘The Feedback Book’, available at selected branches of WH Smith and on Amazon.

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