NO You Do Not Need to Manipulate… And YES You Can Influence…

Since I sought personal growth by being involved in student associations I was caught in a dilemma: I hated manipulation but felt the recurrent need to get my ideas through. One day I understood influence was not manipulation but still, in my mind, the border was fuzzy. 25 years down the road I’m sharing my 2 cents of learning.


We’ll try to understand:

. WHY manipulators manipulate?
. HOW they do it?
. WHAT manipulation techniques they use?

By the way, what is the difference between manipulation & influence?

Telling manipulation and influence apart requires criteria. There are summarized hereafter. You can also consult the Wikipedia definition. But let’s stay to the point:

Manipulation vs. influence

  • HOW: transparency vs. undisclosed + open options to the recipient vs. closed + intent (win/win vs. win/lose)
  • WHAT: tactics used.

Are manipulators evil?

Photo by TETrebbien on Unsplash

Not really. I would risk myself at stating that I personally believe that manipulation is evil yet, in no way should we consider manipulators as evil. I consider manipulation negatively in light of:

  1. The Machiavellian intent and
  2. What manipulation strategies look like… and some do not look good.

But once we understand why manipulators do what they do, we understand that they are normal human beings with unfulfilled needs. And as Gandhi said:

Hate the sin, love the sinner
Click to tweet

OK, so let’s get into the specifics…

HOW do manipulators manipulate?

How = Transparency + Open options to the recipient + win/win vs. lose/win.

1. Transparency

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Trust is important in any relationship and transparency helps a lot. The person being influenced may not understand the full process but still agrees to play the game. This is why it is key to state our intentions upfront.

Here are a few examples from different contexts on stating our intentions upfront:

  • Third party or expert’s opinion: I happen to work as a consultant. With time, I got to the conclusion that whatever I recommend implementing is, in reality, a change management project for the impacted teams. In reinforcing the need for change, I recommend to my customers to read books and articles from experts of the topic at hand. People get to know upfront what they are going through. This soothes the process.
  • Stepped approach/repetition: influence is a journey and does not happen overnight. It is usually useful to tackle the same situation from different angles allowing for diverse repetition. This again can be announced from the inception stage, each time giving the opportunity to your interlocutors to “sleep on it”.

These are 2 out of many examples showing that announcing what is going on does not spoil the process. On the contrary, it builds trust that is a key component of a relationship that is transformational vs. transactional.

2. Number of options offered

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The number of open options and how open those options are, determine how manipulative (or not) we may be. Closing the sales funnel by the usual “do you want the blue or the red one?”, is a classical manipulation where we suggest that options are limited. “Limited offer” is another frequent example of closed options. On the other end of the spectrum, pursuing open-ended questions/options isn’t always feasible, but the idea is to strike the right balance.

The need for such negotiation tactics decreases as we increase the real value offered to our customers.

3. Win/Win vs. Win/Lose

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

If our primary intent is for us to win regardless of the consequences for others, manipulation will be perceived as totally OK. We may even easily justify it by stating that “if we do not use it ourselves, others will use it on us. It’s not a choice but a necessity”. This belief stems from a scarcity mindset. We’d rather hang on a bit longer for our values before turning into 100% pragmatic mode that may cause collateral damages.

Winning a tough negotiation doesn’t mean winning a customer. Being too tough on partners may drive disengagement -K
Click to tweet

In reality, the HOW translates our mindset. How we engage in the interaction and how much we care about others. Transparency, open options and win/win intent can positively impact our relationships and build true partnerships.

WHAT manipulation tactics are used?

Influence and manipulation methods are mostly similar. But few of them are specific to manipulation:

  • Emotional blackmail
  • Seduction
  • Victimization
  • Half truths/lies
  • Threatening
  • “If you don’t convince, confuse”
  • Inducing ignorance

As stated earlier they do not look good. There is nothing to be proud of, yet many use them daily when negotiating with external partners and even sometimes with colleagues! Feeling the urge to use such techniques must stem from an uncontrollable impulse. So the question is…

…WHY do manipulators manipulate?

Q: Why would normal people use such deceptive tactics?
A: Because they have unmet psychological needs.

Q: What are those needs?

  • A1 — Lack of self-esteem: We hardly accept having a negative judgment of our self-worth. As a consequence, many find it easier to make others look bad than improve themselves.
  • A2 — Same applies for incompetence: when faced with their own limits, most prefer denial and end-up pointing others’ incompetencies instead.
  • A3 — Similarly, a puffed up ego can play tricks on us. We put too much emphasis on our social image and not enough on our self-worth. Reality sets in all too quickly and we are left with the same old solution, detract others.
  • A4 — Mimicry: people reproduce what they bear normal (mostly linked to childhood). If we had the wrong examples around us to date, it is still time to elect a better group to be inspired from.

TO SUM UP

Manipulation is the best response manipulators find when faced with their own limits. We have to both confront them AND put them at ease showing empathy. This kind of compensation behaviors are common in our everyday life, we are just not trained to spot them.

Influence allows us to stay connected to our values in everything we do. It should be our by default operating mode.

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