CEOWORLD magazine - Latest - Success and Leadership - Move Beyond Communication, Persuasion, and Manipulation to Influence Positively

Success and Leadership

Move Beyond Communication, Persuasion, and Manipulation to Influence Positively

Tsun-Yan Hsieh

There is a Chinese saying: “To get the tiger’s cubs, you need to go into the tiger’s den.” The modern-day equivalent is: “To have a positive influence on others, you must put yourself at risk.” But today’s risk isn’t about the potential to lose life or limb. Instead, it includes acknowledging our vulnerabilities, making sacrifices, asking tougher questions — even when self-interest needs to be tempered so others would do likewise for the collective good.   

Traditionally, most leaders assumed hierarchy or logical persuasion would ensure their directives were carried out. But such unilateral orientation, where the initiator expects buy-in or that others subscribe to a certain point of view, doesn’t assure good outcomes — especially on the most difficult issues where stakeholders’ interests are diverse. Conversely, having a mutual and collective orientation involves looking to positively influence everyone to willingly move a project, the company, and the community forward together. The latter acknowledges the diverse, conflictual society of our world today. One-way power just doesn’t cut it anymore.  

Positive influence also differs from manipulation. Manipulation is when one party influences other parties for the sole benefit of the influencing party, and it is often harmful to the parties being influenced. Examples of manipulation include political propaganda, blackmail, and sowing falsehoods to discredit and destabilize the prevailing order. In business, manipulation often occurs, too, such as spreading negative rumors about a competitor. The self-centered outcome cannot justify negative means. Intent — whether one is working for positive outcomes — benefiting self, others, and the greater good — matters more than ever.   

Win-win is also not good enough. The parties who negotiated the win-win may benefit, but there are often a lot of unintended consequences, when our behaviors affect so many other parties, society, and the environment who aren’t “at the table,” in the moment, and into the future. We are all suffering from such consequences.  

+Influence is an attempt to mobilize oneself and others to positively impact an interaction, a task, a relationship, a group of people, or a community without the use of raw power (such as coercion) or authority, to produce good outcomes beneficial to all stakeholders.  

We need to set more ambitious outcomes, not just for productivity, but also people’s satisfaction and growth over time. To do so, we must identify the needs and pressure points of all stakeholders and address the pertinent ones that will collectively move everyone forward together.  

Practice these guidelines to move beyond communication, persuasion, and manipulation, and hone your ability to positively influence others:  

  1. Start by defining the right +outcome
    Positively influencing others starts with identifying the positive outcome — not just what you want, but from the perspective of those affected and the system as a whole. We must frame the outcome not only in terms of how it benefits ourselves or the organization, but how it benefits everyone.

    Three core outcomes undergird positive influence: productivity, satisfaction, and growth. The first, productivity, ensures less effort and waste for the same effort, and higher output (e.g., revenues). The second, satisfaction, ensures individuals feel respected, competent, and connected to others. And the third, growth, involves both business (such as into new customer segments or more outlets) and personal (such as being able to operate in multiple contexts, cope with disruption, embrace change). 

  2. Connect personally to those we wish to influence
    The most challenging issues to face first require a relational connection that’s genuinely human to build a foundation of trust. Connecting personally as human beings, behind the veneer of formal roles and outward personas, allows stakeholders to feel respected and accepted, and builds a foundation for understanding each other’s deeper needs, assumptions, and beliefs. It also starts to overcome the “us-vs.-them” divide, especially with people who are very different.

    Connecting and caring are sadly not as natural to human beings in our digitized world as they should be. We get ready access but far less trust in our interactions. We may feel strange, even risky in bringing our humanity to bear. But making an authentic connection enables us to tackle problems together from the same side of the table.

  3. Express curiosity and unconditional positive regard
    Curiosity about another person as a human being really matters. But curiosity coupled with unconditional positive regard is the winning foundation for having a positive influence. This means suspending our urge to judge others based on what they say, do, and who they are. Suspending our instinctual judgment allows us to get to know the person more deeply beyond identity labels that are so easy and dangerous to put on.

    Curiosity is the desire to understand the world and others as they truly are, rather than staying in the comfort of our own perceptions and judgments. People can sense if we’re seeking to understand them or just waiting to “reload” and reassert our own beliefs, views, and goals. Like connecting and caring, it encourages reciprocal openness, to understand and find common ground. It also helps us to understand the pressures and issues others face and see how we can address these pressures — both essential to crafting the right influence strategy.  Curiosity is something all serious positive influencers need to cultivate and deepen.

  4. Engage our being
    Effectively influencing others requires not only using the right words, but also aligning our being with those words, and ensuring both words and our being align with our positive influence objectives. Words are like the surface of the ocean — it looks calm, but underneath the water there is much more flow. The being within us is like a deep ocean, and developments in the depths will inevitably surface to affect our influence attempt. Most of us cannot control what shows up and when. We must influence the flows in the water before they create turbulence on the surface. That’s why it’s valuable, and essential, to engage the inner being and, over time, improve access to key qualities like care, courage, and compassion so we can harness them in service of worthy outcomes. It takes deliberate practice to overcome our instincts to suppress rather than to express our humanity in high stake situations.

Positive influence is a constructive type of power, essential in all human endeavors be it business, family, social, or political. Authoritative power and persuasion isn’t sufficient in getting people to change their behavior. As the world struggles with its interdependence and diversity, the rise of positive influence is inevitable and long overdue. 


Written by Tsun-Yan Hsieh.

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CEOWORLD magazine - Latest - Success and Leadership - Move Beyond Communication, Persuasion, and Manipulation to Influence Positively
Tsun-Yan Hsieh
Tsun-Yan Hsieh is the Chairman and Lead Counselor of LinHart Group, a leadership services firm specializing in advising boards and CEOs globally on leadership effectiveness. Formerly, he spent 30 years with McKinsey and founded McKinsey’s Leadership Services, serving clients globally. Over the last 15 years, he has served on the boards of Manulife, Singapore Airlines, Dyson Group, Bharti Airtel, and Sony Corporation. Huijin Kong is the Principal of LinHart Group, working with CEOs and future CEOs on their most difficult professional issues. She was formerly with McKinsey, working with MNCs and local companies in the US, China, and India. Their new book is Positive Influence: The First and Last Mile of Leadership (World Scientific Publishing Company, June 28, 2023). Learn more at POSITIVE INFLUENCE, or find out what MBAs learn from it here.


Tsun-Yan Hsieh is an opinion columnist for the CEOWORLD magazine. For more information, visit the author’s LinkedIn page and website.