Manipulating and influencing – two very different things

When I run our ‘How to influence & persuade’ workshop, we spend some time working out just what the difference between influencing and outright manipulating is. I think it’s vital to get straight on that at the start. Some people might be harbouring a secret wish to acquire some dark art (well, you never know). Others might fear the dark art notion and be worrying about compromising their integrity. I’m in that second camp, and at the same time believe there are some skills we can apply to influence others in ways they may be unaware of, and that’s fine – so long as we do so with the utmost integrity.

I call it ‘positive influencing’. It’s very different to manipulating – which falls squarely into ‘negative influencing’.

Negative influencing Positive influencing
Sets out to ‘win’ at another’s expense Sets out to achieve a ‘win’ for all parties
Seeks to exploit advantages to own ends Seeks to identify mutual benefits
Focuses on own aims and goals Clarifies own and other party’s goals
Pressurizes other party to go with their suggestion Identifies other party’s concerns and options, to help jointly generate suggestions
Sees situation exclusively through own perspective Meets the other party where they are – to better understand what’s important to them
Talks and seldom listens Asks respectful questions and listens well to responses
Achieves a short-term gain Achieves sustainable gains

The Latin origin of the word ‘influence’ is to do with flowing in, and dictionary definitions frequently mention ‘without apparent effort’. In other words, when we want to positively influence others we need to allow the conversation to flow, pay close attention to what’s going on for the other party and collaborate with them to arrive at a mutually beneficial agreement.

To help that flow along, make sure you listen as much (if not more) than you speak. That way you’ll be better able to identify what’s going on for the other party and particularly, what’s important for them. Only when you have both identified mutual goals and important elements can you ‘meet them where they are’ and come up with mutual ‘wins’.

You may find these blog posts useful:

Tricky conversations

Two ears, one mouth – and the whole brain…

Dawn is the author of ‘How to be Zoomly at work’, available on Amazon.

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