You Teach People How to Manipulate Others

I attended a networking event/cocktail hour recently and was engaged in conversation with the woman I was seated next to. She asked what I did and I told her I was a sales trainer for an insurance company. She asked if I had a background in education and I told her I did not. She proceeded to quiz me on how I could be a trainer or educator without formal training as an educator. I say, “quiz” because rather than feeling she was interested, I felt more like I was being cross-examined, as if I might be unqualified for the job I’ve been doing successfully for more than 20 years.

As the conversation proceeded, I mentioned that I have my own business where I teach people about the psychology of persuasion. She said, “So you teach people how to manipulate others.” I’m sure she noticed my face change as I replied rather forcefully, “No, there’s a difference between manipulation and persuasion.” She said she didn’t think there was any difference because persuasion was only about getting people to do what you want which in her mind was manipulation. In my mind that’s like saying there’s no difference between the person who uses a knife to cut into a steak and a surgeon who uses a scalpel during an operation.

If you’ve read Influence PEOPLE for any length of time, you know I’ve addressed manipulation before but it’s worth going into once again because there’s such a misconception out there.

My first question to those who think persuasion is manipulation would be this – is there any way to get someone to do what you want without manipulating them?

I hope you answered yes because if not, then we live in a world where everyone is simply out for himself or herself with no regard for anyone else. Think of the consequences:

We don’t get our kids to study because it will help them in life, only because it allows us as parents to brag about their grades.

Wherever you work, no one should buy your product or service because you only sell it to make money without regard to how it impacts others.

You don’t marry someone because you love him or her and want to make him or her happy; you just want to take happiness from them.

I could go on and on but you get the picture. There are people who do what I just described because there are always people who are out only for themselves and don’t care about anyone else.

However, I bet most of you reading this aren’t like that. You want your kids to do well in school because it will make their lives better down the road. You probably work for a company where you really believe people will be better off with your products or services. And the person you’re with, you probably do want to help him or her live a happy, fulfilled life. Do you get anything out of what I just described? Sure you do, but is what you get your driving force? Probably not.

Here’s the reality; every day we encounter people who are not doing what we’d like them to do, what we know they should do, or what might make them better off. For example, in my line of work – insurance – people are happy they have insurance if they have a car accident, their home burns down or a loved one dies. You hope you never have to use your insurance, and you’d rather not have to buy insurance, but you know you might need it one day and you’re thankful it’s there when something bad happens. Is a salesperson helping you understand this reality manipulating you? I don’t see it that way.

Now, people can certainly resort to manipulation. One definition is “to manage or influence skillfully, especially in an unfair manner.” Today we don’t think about “skillfully” because the word is associated with “unfair” and taking advantage of others.

Consider this; if you learned that saying “please” and “thank you” made people more likely to do what you want, would you say “please” and “thank you” most of the time? Certainly you would! You can call using those words “good manners” but the fact remains, we appreciate it when people are polite and we know people respond to us better when we’re polite. Consequently polite people tend to get what they want more often than impolite people. But that doesn’t mean polite people are manipulative.

It’s a fact that when we help others they’re more likely to help us. Does being a nice person who likes to help others make you a manipulator? Not necessarily. Certainly some people learn this and use it to their unfair advantage but others do it because they’ve learned life is easier when you give and respond to giving. This starts early in life when we teach our kids to say “thank you” after someone has done something for them. Are you just teaching your kids to manipulate? I don’t think so.

When we talk about the principles of influence we’re talking about psychological triggers that people naturally respond to. The principles are neither good nor bad, they simply describe how people typically think and respond. How we use them reveals something about our character. When it comes to this I like the following quote from The Art of Woo:

“An earnest and sincere lover buys flowers and candy for the object of his affection. So does the cad who only seeks to take advantage of another’s heart but when the cad succeeds we don’t blame the flowers and candy, we rightly question his character.”

Learning how to influence others isn’t manipulation but can certainly be used by a cad to take advantage of another so let me end with this:

Be truthful, look to give, and try to genuinely help people. If you live your life like that you’ll reap much more than you sow because people will appreciate you and want to help you in return. That’s not manipulation, that’s living life in a way that benefits everyone, including you.

Brian Ahearn, CMCT®
Chief Influence Officer
Helping You Learn to Hear “Yes”.


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