I’m often asked to explain the difference between persuasion and manipulation. Actually, it tends to take more the form of a challenge, as in, “Bob, isn’t persuasion and manipulation the same thing?”
And, it’s a good, legitimate question. After all, in both cases you are attempting to elicit an individual or group to think or do something they would presumably not think or do without your influence.
Persuasion and Manipulation are certainly “cousins” and to deny that is to deny reality. After all, both are based on certain principles of human action and interaction. Good persuaders…and good manipulators understand those principles and know how to effectively utilize them. That’s why there is perhaps nothing more dangerous than a bad person with good people skills.
Yes, the principles are similar; often even the same.* In actuality, however, the results are as different as night and day. The big difference — in my opinion — is the intent. In his magnificent 1986 book, The Art of Talking So That People Will Listen Dr. Paul Swets provided an outstanding explanation regarding both intent and outcome. He wrote:
“Manipulation aims at control, not cooperation. It results in a win/lose situation. It does not consider the good of the other party. Persuasion is just the opposite. In contrast to the manipulator, the persuader seeks to enhance the self-esteem of the other party. The result is that people respond better because they are treated as responsible, self-directing individuals.”
Persuasion aims to serve; manipulation, to hurt. Or, if not necessarily intending to hurt, certainly not caring if it does. The manipulator is simply so focused on him or herself and their own self-interest that — like any other totally self-serving organism — they do only what they feel is for their own benefit and, if someone must suffer as a result, then so be it.
What they don’t realize is that not only is this not good life practice…it’s not good business practice.
A manipulator can have employees, but never a team.
She can have customers, but rarely one that will be long-lasting and a source of referrals. And, once discovered, the manipulator’s customer-base tends to crumble like a stale cookie.
He can have friends and family, but rarely are these relationships fulfilling and happy.
Yes, both persuaders and manipulators know the how and why of human motivation. And, both utilize their knowledge to cause the action they desire a person to take. However, the crucial difference between the two is that while manipulators use that knowledge to THEIR advantage, the persuader uses it to the OTHER person’s advantage.**
This ties perfectly into Law #3 from The Go-Giver which says, “Your influence is determined by how abundantly you place other people’s interests first.”
And, that’s persuasion…and leadership at it’s best!
Please weigh in with your thoughts.
*I placed an asterisk after the phrase, “the principles are similar; often even the same” because, while that’s true, there is something that a manipulator will do that a persuader never will, and it’s important you be aware of it. Fortunately, it’s extremely easy to recognize. We’ll look at that next.
**Caution and questioning of one’s motives is always advised here. Might one rationalize to themselves they are persuading when they are actually manipulating? A persuader stays aware of this on a constant basis. In a future article, we’ll look at how this can be done.