As a communication specialist, I’m often asked about the difference between persuasion and manipulation. It’s an important question that I’ve been responding to and refining my thinking for decades. Whilst some will say, it’s just semantics, I personally agree that it’s important to understand the difference and be clear about our intentions when attempting to convince our fellow humans. None of us want to lie in our bed at night feeling guilty or sorry about how we treated our fellow humans that day. In fact, when we engage in persuasive versus manipulative communication and achieve what we want, while the other person also achieves what they want, it’s a gratifying experience for everyone involved. Let’s look at the definitions.
Manipulate – to influence or manage shrewdly or deviously.
Cajole – to persuade someone to do something by sustained coaxing or flattery.
Hustle – to pressure or urge someone into an action.
Entice – to attract by arousing hope or desire; lure.
Snare – to catch or trap in or as if in a snare; capture by trickery.
I don’t know about you; none of those words are particularly attractive to me! You might achieve what you want, but at what cost? Here are the definitions of ‘convince’ and ‘persuade’:
Convince – To bring by the use of argument or evidence to firm belief or a course of action.
Persuade – To induce to undertake a course of action or embrace a point of view by means of argument, reasoning, or entreaty and where there is a measure of freedom in the decision-making process of the stakeholder.
Are you persuading or hustling?
When deciding whether we are being persuasive or manipulative it’s important to think about our focus or intent. If you are solely focused on achieving your own needs without any reference or care for your stakeholder’s needs, then your approach to influence may well be manipulative. This is because you are so convinced that you must change their mind, you’ll often employ any means including deceit or trickery to get what you want. Whereas, if you are completely focused on the needs and wants of your stakeholder, with no care or concern for your own wants and needs, and if you appreciate the need for your stakeholder to feel they had a measure of freedom in their decision-making process, then it’s less likely that you will trick or deceive your stakeholder. Although it is still possibly that you could employ these less attractive means.
And in the end who cares if you’re manipulative or not?
The answer to this important question is your prospect or stakeholder cares. And that’s why it’s an important question. If your prospect or stakeholder feels they were lured, tricked, or pressured into buying your product or service or approving your big idea they will likely experience buyer’s remorse once the deal is done and you’ll have a very unhappy customer on your hands. You’ve either got someone asking for their money back, and/or they are possibly ‘spreading the word’ that you are not to be trusted. The point here is that you can check yourself. Be sure to get into your stakeholder’s shoes prior to your persuasive moment. Ask yourself some questions so you’re sure you are approaching this scenario in the most effective way.
Questions to ask to be sure you’re in your stakeholder’s shoes
- What is this person thinking, feeling and doing prior to the conversation?
- What’s important to them?
- What are they hoping to achieve from this discussion?
- How do they want to feel when we are finished?
- What’s in their best interest here?
- What’s a win/win for us both?
If you check yourself throughout the persuasion scenario to ensure that you haven’t crossed the boundary from persuasion into hustling, that is, to pressure or urge someone into action then you’re probably on safe ground.
It is still semantics, isn’t it? And it’s important for you to wonder about this in your daily dealings with your stakeholders if you are to be trusted and succeed in your communication scenarios. Happy persuading!
Edited extract from How to Persuade: The skills you need to get what you want (Wiley $29.95, 1 Aug 2022) by Michelle Bowden.
Written by Michelle Bowden.
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