How to Influence, Not Manipulate (Follow-up post to “Aristotle’s Influence Model”)

How to influence without manipulating

Dear Eli, Frankie and team, thanks for the follow-up questions to our group coaching session on “Aristotle’s Influence Model”. What is the difference between influencing and manipulation? How do we influence without sounding like we’re being manipulative? Very valid questions.

The truth is, it’s a slippery slope. Sometimes we witness powerfully influential people manipulate others. That’s because the skills for influencing is the same for manipulating. Both skilled influencers and manipulators are adept at understanding human nature and what motivates or threatens people to make decisions and actions. From influencer to manipulator, it’s up to that person whether or not to cross that line.

So what’s that fine line between influence and manipulation?

The conventional explanation is, it’s the intent. If the intent is for mutual benefit or for the benefit of the other, then it’s good, it’s influencing. If the intent is for one’s personal gain or selfish purpose, i.e. make someone do what’s good for oneself but not necessarily for the other, then it’s evil, it’s manipulating.

I agree, although I think there’s more to this, beyond intent.

I believe it is also a matter of “control over choice.” A manipulator attempts to control others to make a choice that is advantageous to them (the manipulator). A genuine influencer fundamentally respects that people’s choices are personal and sacred to them, and if one coerces someone into making a certain choice, that’s a violation of their psychological freedom.

This is actually a tough ask. Because understandably, who wouldn’t be disappointed if whoever that you are trying to influence ends up not making a choice that you believed was in their best interest?

I struggled myself with this kind of disappointment for a very long time. If my “constructive advice” isn’t taken, I felt like I was ineffective in being heard, and frustration was triggered from my need to be right. But once I learned a branch of CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) called Choice Theory (William Glasser), I finally started to “get it” and my influencing style evolved.

Now I’m not saying that you have to go through psychotherapy or coaching training like I did to master the art of influencing. What I am suggesting is to use these two criteria to help yourself grow as an authentic influencer: (1) “Am I in good intent?,” and (2) “Would I still be able to be happy for people even if they make a choice against or beyond what I think is right for them?”

use these two criteria to help yourself grow as an authentic influencer: (1) “Am I in good intent?,” and (2) “Would I still be able to be happy for people even if they make a choice against or beyond what I think is right for them?”

However good intent, if you end up making the other person feel overly persuaded to accept your point of view, a sense of resentment may remain. However good intent, they may have felt manipulated.

So, if you don’t want to manipulate people and you don’t want to be felt manipulative, respect people’s freedom of choice and act accordingly.

I hope this was a helpful answer. Let me know if there’s anything else that I can help.


Coach Takeshi

P.S. The concept of Aristotle’s Influence Model is originally from his 350BC work “Rhetoric.” The Cambridge dictionary definition of the word “rhetoric” is (1) “Speech or writing intended to be effective and influence people,” and (2) “Clever language that sounds good but is not sincere or has no real meaning.” Rhetoric can be a good or bad thing, depending on who uses it how. It’s a slippery slope isn’t it.

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