In some ways, to influence and to manipulate can seem to be the same thing. After all, the intent of both influence and manipulation is to get other people to behave, think, or make the decision you want them to. But is that really the case as demonstrated by these definitions from thefreedictionary.com?
Influence: (n) 1. A power affecting a person, thing, or course of events, especially one that operates without any direct or apparent effort. 2. Power to sway or affect based on prestige, wealth, ability, or position. (v) 1. To produce an effect on by imperceptible or intangible means; sway. 2) To affect the nature, development, or condition of; modify.
Manipulate: (v) 1. To move, arrange, operate, or control by the hands or by mechanical means, especially in a skillful manner. 2. To influence or manage shrewdly or deviously. 3. To tamper with or falsify for personal gain.
As indicated in the definitions, the main purpose of both influence and manipulation is to sway; however, there is a definite difference between the two. Influence is an ethical behavior; manipulation is unethical. We admire leaders who have mastered the power of influence; equally, we mistrust leaders we believe to be manipulative. They are both getting us to see things their way. Taken too far, influence can move to the other end of the spectrum and become manipulation.
The differences between influence and manipulation include the:
- reason behind the intention to persuade another person
- truthfulness and accuracy of provided information
- transparency of the process
- benefit, affect, or impact on the person.
Manipulation implies an intent to fool or trick someone into doing, believing, or buying something that leaves them harmed in some way. We view manipulators as schemers. Out to get what they want using whatever means possible, manipulators selfishly pursue their own agenda, trying to control instead of wanting to influence another person. For example:
Influence: Someone offers a proposition that is beneficial to both parties.
Manipulation: Someone offers a proposition that serves their own purposes and is against the other person’s interest. They conceal a desire to move the person to their point of view in a way that will only benefit themselves. In addition, if their intention were uncovered, the discovery would cause the other person to be less receptive to their idea.
Influence: All information provided is accurate and shared openly.
Manipulation: Information is withheld or distorted to trick or deceive.
Influence: Someone is willingly led to something they want or that will benefit them.
Manipulation: Someone is led to something that will harm them or lead them to eventual regret.
Influence: Requesting someone to do you a favor you believe they won’t want to do using sincere appreciation.
Manipulation: Getting someone to do you a favor you believe they won’t want to do using guilt or emotional blackmail.
Many years ago I worked with a manager who often ended his directives with, “And if I find out you didn’t follow what I said, you’re fired,” Looking back now, I assume that he was not confident in his role, his ability to do the job, and/or his effectiveness as a manager and leader. We have all known people who, like my former colleague, get others to do what they want through fear and intimidation. Using these tactics may accomplish what they want, but it does not make them leaders. Like love and hate, there is a fine line between influence and manipulation.