“There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”

It was in Hamlet that William Shakespeare penned the famous line, “There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” I came across this quote while doing some research for a training class I’ll be leading on attitude but the more I thought about that simple sentence the more I thought about how persuasion differs from manipulation. Some people are uncomfortable with the psychology of persuasion because they think using that knowledge gives them an unfair advantage over others.

It’s true that understanding how people’s minds work and knowing more effective ways to get someone to say “Yes” gives you an advantage. However, I don’t see that being any different than good looking people having a leg up when it comes to modeling, math whizzes doing better in fields like accounting, or people with great voices having a better chance at a singing career.
In each case those people possess something most others do not but we don’t consider it an unfair advantage. To be sure, if a good looking person uses their looks to take advantage of you or if the math genius knowingly confuses you with numbers to get the best deal then we’d say those people were not acting in a fair manner.
Shell and Mario Moussa, authors of The Art of WOO, have a wonderful quote that goes to the heart of the matter so to speak. They wrote, “An earnest and sincere lover buys flowers and candy for the object of his affections. So does the cad who succeeds 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.”
Flowers and candy are neither good nor bad because, as Shakespeare rightly pointed out, we are the ones who ascribe meaning to them. Flowers can be wonderful when a man gives them to a woman when he asks her to marry him. They can also signify profound sadness when displayed at a funeral. Candy might not be so good if
you’re on a diet but it’s usually received with great joy by little kids on Halloween.
what does this have to do with understanding the psychology of persuasion? The six principles of influence as defined by Dr. Cialdini are neither good nor bad. They simply describe how people respond to one another and each can be used in positive ways or each can be used to take advantage of another person. Let’s take a brief look at each principle to see how this can happen.
Reciprocity tells us people feel obligated to return the favor when someone first does something for them. This is a great principle to know if you helped a friend move and need help down the road because your friend will be very likely to want to return the favor and help you. Of course there are always people who give you things or do things for you just so you’ll feel obligated to help them in some way.
Liking is the natural inclination to enjoy working with or being around people we like. Finding ways to like other people and get them to like you makes life much easier. Don’t you enjoy working with people you like? Sure you do. And I bet you want to like your neighbors and hope they like you. Deceitful people will tap into this principle by flattering you just to get you to do what they want.
Consensus is the tendency for us to go along with the crowd. Much of the time this is the right thing to do because “there’s safety in numbers” and “everybody can’t be wrong.” A dishonest person might try to sway you by telling you how “everyone” is doing something because they understand you’ll feel a psychological pull to go along with the crowd.
Authority is all about our reliance on people we view as experts. When you don’t have time to do a lot of research it’s a big time saver to defer to an expert. For example, most people don’t want to do their own taxes so they hire an accountant. On the flip side, there are people who prey upon this by creating a false impression of authority just so you’ll trust them.
Consistency is all about people doing what they say they’ll do or doing what you’ve done in the past. That’s very good because we can rely on people to continue in a consistent manner when we engage them. Of course, the manipulator seeing that can dupe the unsuspecting person by referring to something they said just to take advantage of this principle.
Scarcity comes into play when people’s actions are impacted by the thought of something becoming less available. Quite often this is good because we don’t miss out on opportunities that might go away. However,
this can be used against us when untrustworthy types create a false sense of urgency to get us to act in the moment rather than giving us time to consider all options.
As you can see, each of the six principles has an upside. In fact, I’d say the upsides are huge because they typically help us make good decisions faster. After all, if they didn’t lead to good decisions most of the time we’d quickly figure that out and stop responding to the cues. But just as flowers and candy aren’t
always good, the principles can be used in manipulative ways by some people who are only looking to get their way no matter the cost to the other, unsuspecting person. Just like the honest and sincere lover and the cad, it comes down to the motive of the person wielding the principles. I trust that you as a reader have come to see my focus is on the ethical use so win-win situations are created. Even if you don’t see yourself as the influencing type, understanding the principles will also help you protect yourself from the cad.

Brian, CMCT
Helping You Learn to Hear “Yes”.

Is Persuasion Manipulation?

Is persuasion manipulation? I recently read The Hidden Persuaders by Vance Packard, a book written in the mid-1950s to alert people to how advertisers were getting the public to buy products using their understanding of psychology. It paints the social psychologists who worked with big companies in a negative light and described “the advertising man” as a “journeyman psychologist.” The cover of the book and the opening paragraph both state, “Many of us are being influenced and manipulated in the patterns of our everyday lives.”

I enjoyed the read and have to agree in part because there are people who take advantage of their understanding of psychology in order to get what they want. Reading it made me think it was time to address the topic of manipulation. If we’re to talk about manipulation we need to know what manipulation is. I looked up “manipulate” in several dictionaries and while they all vary somewhat their definitions, the word boils down to a couple of meanings, one good and one bad:

1. to handle or use skillfully (i.e., a carpenter manipulates wood – good)
2. to control something or someone cleverly or deviously (the car salesman manipulated me – bad)

I think it’s safe to say the words manipulate, manipulated and manipulation all carry negative connotations today. After all, no one wants to be manipulated and no one wants to be known as a manipulator.

When it comes to understanding manipulation we need to understand motive. I love a quote from The Art of Woo by G. Richard Shell and Mario Moussa. They wrote, “An earnest and sincere lover buys flowers and candy for the object of his affections. So does the cad who succeeds 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.”

Understanding influence and persuasion is completely neutral like the flowers and candy noted above. Why a man uses the flowers and candy as he does, or why a person uses persuasion and influence is the real question. In each case you have to wonder if the person is only looking out for #1 — what’s in their best interests.

The term “win-win” is popular today. It’s encouraged in business and negotiations if you want to maintain a relationship with another person or organization. That needs to be kept i
n the forefront when it comes to using persuasion. You have to ask yourself, “Is what I’m asking this person, or company, to do in the best interests of all parties?” If it is and you’re being truthful in your approach then you can probably feel okay about proceeding.

Something else to consider. As you learn more and more about influence and persuasion, wouldn’t it be foolish to not use that understanding when making requests of others? If you knew there was a better way to hear “Yes” then why would you not use that method? If you felt bad that someone agreed then perhaps you have to step back and ask yourself whether or not your request — influence and persuasion aside — was legitimate to begin with.

Here’s an interesting side bar: it was this very topic that got me in touch with Dr. Cialdini. When I read an ad for one of his videos it read, “Call it influence, persuasion…even manipulation.” Knowing his stance on ethics I emailed the organization saying I don’t think he’d agree or appreciate that description of his work. His company, Influence at Work, found out about my email and called me. That’s what led to him becoming a guest speaker at State Auto in the summer of 2004, my attendance at his two-day Principles of Persuasion workshop and eventually my certification as a CMCT (Cialdini Method Certified Trainer).

On a more personal note – I used flowers, candy and a Rolls Royce on my wife’s 23rd birthday to “influence” her decision when I asked her to marry me. I think she’d agree it’s been a win-win relationship.

Before I let you go I want to point out the very cool drawing from a friend, Mike Franzese. Mike is in the advertising business and has a blog, Franzeseinklings, that I follow. I liked his drawings so much that I asked him for a picture that conveyed manipulation. I think you’ll agree, he did a terrific job! Keep an eye out for more from him and give his blog a follow.

Helping You Learn to Hear “Yes! “