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The Difference Between Influence and Manipulation

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Working with clients using strategies and tools provided by NLP I get asked the following question “What is the difference between influence and manipulation?” Often this withholds a clash of values and lack of decision making based on stereotypes provided by culture and fueled by media. The issues often revolve around the desire of wanting to be rich, famous, powerful but also not seen as corrupted, maleficent, ruthless and so on. Now let’s break it down. 


What is influence?

Influence is defined as the ability to have an effect on other people’s behavior, way of thinking, character, development and so on. 

We are rather familiar with it, we use it in our daily lives as how the social media or television is influencing our kids, how the media is influencing the portrayal of gender roles and norms etc. 

But, is this usage of it even correct? A component of influence is knowing the ultimate goal and also how you will achieve it. Also, mentoring and personal experiences are great assets to be used. 

The actual definition of influence is as follows: the ability to have a positive impact on other people’s development using the ethics of relational ecology (clarity of ways, methods, tools, goal, values and cultural fit etc.) In this relationship nobody loses, every party wins. Now it sounds pretty different, huh?!

The most common technique to achieve influence is by persuasion


What is manipulation?

Manipulation is defined as the ability to leverage control over other people. If you search on google for the term, you will often find the association of control and influence other people. Hm…

Let’s go through it together: when you manipulate someone, the other person knows only part of your intention, is almost unaware of the consequences on their own lives and in most cases it’s a win-lose situation, it’s not a partnership. It involves withhold of information, lack of communication, fuzzy and undefined goals and outcomes, no sense of responsibility, it affects your social relationships and it makes you do activities that are not based on your values. Sounds familiar? This is what is mostly portrayed and utterly feared. 

The most common technique to achieve manipulation is by coercion. 


How to recognize them?

It’s a common belief that intention is what separates influence from manipulation. But, I believe that everyone has good intentions. Yes, read that again. Everyone has good intentions. 

Now, the question to ask is who does that intention serve? If it’s a mutual gain and you are fully aware of the implications, efforts, costs and gains, then it’s influence. If you are partly aware of the process, consequences and cost then it’s manipulation. 

Let me ask you this, are commercials influencing or manipulating people? Using our knowledge and deductive capacity, we already know the purpose of commercials, which is to sell. That is their gain. Now, because we know this and also we know that the way they do it is by using commercial channels like television, billboards, radio etc., we can fairly say that commercials are influencing, not manipulating people. 

Here is another one: are the news influencing or manipulating people? Based on the same logic, we know only a segment of information, we do not know their goal or their means of achieving that. We have no clear image of causalities and its effect on our lives. Short answer, as you might already think, is yes, they are manipulating. This is why we need to get informed from several sources. 


Trust your instinct

The best thing you can do is to trust your instinct – it’s a biological ability to enhance and use. It will always tell what is best for you, but we usually are trained to ignore it and grow out of it due to radical rationalization

Here is what I use when confronted with new situations, besides trusting my instinct: communicate with your body and localize the areas which provoke reactions to a healthy and unhealthy situation for you. As for me, a good situation is felt in my upper body and I associate it with a flying excitement. A bad situation is felt in my legs and I associate it with the feeling of getting grounded and growing roots, like my body is saying do not make that move. Now, you try it. Get to know both feelings and how to recognize them fast. Your body will faithfully serve you. 


So there it is, hope I have answered some of your questions. Leave a comment or message me for more. 

Stay curious, 



📷 Photo by Didssph  on  Unsplash


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