Are you influencing or manipulating?

“Because to take away a man’s freedom of choice, even his freedom to make the wrong choice, is to manipulate him as though he were a puppet and not a person.”– Madeline L’Engle

We all influence each other in all sorts of ways on a daily basis. Sometimes these influences improve the other persons’s decision-making by leading him or her to believe or pay attention to the right things. Sometimes, they degrade decision-making by leading him or her to believe, doubt, feel or pay attention to wrong things.

As we practice social distancing, remote work environments increase the need to have different communications to persuade people to do collaborative work which is beneficial to everyone involved. In your professional endeavours, you need to be able to effectively influence others to put their best effort in to their current job roles and similarly, when it comes to your personal relationships, you need to care and add value to those around you through your persuasive communication.

There are different techniques to influence or persuade which involve listening deeply to what works and what doesn’t for the other person while being willing to share openly what works and what doesn’t for us.

When you engage in such conversations, it is important that you know in your efforts to persuade others you are not being manipulative in your communication. Similarly, while being persuaded by others, you should be able to pick up those subtle signals of whether you are being manipulated or influenced. For instance, What if you are being selective about the things you tell one person versus another when communicating to people you work with? Selectively withholding information form one that you provide to another because you anticipate the conflict that will cause in order to make things go as your want them to go becomes manipulative.

So, question of whether you are influencing or manipulating is worth asking yourself when you are communicating. When it comes to you being persuaded by others into doing something, it is important that you should be able to recognise whether you are being influenced or manipulated.

The ability to persuade is important to guide a conversation towards a specific objective. But in doing so, care must be taken that your ability to persuade or influence the other should not turn into manipulation. Because some people may deliberately influence to hamper a persons ability to make right decision. What draws a line is not what kind of influence is being used, but whether the information is being used to put the others into a better or worse position.

You must invest as much energy in the other persons win as your own. Otherwise your personal or professional relationships become win-lose, which could further devolve into not resulting in positive outcomes.

Influence Vs Manipulation

Influence is aligning your objectives with another’s and is part of give and take in a constructive relationship. It is the ability of getting someone else to change their perspective or agree to or understand your perspective or belief without forcing it upon them. The change may be being open to a new idea, a broadening of their perspective or a change in their thinking or behaviour. It is the ability to move a person to a desired action within the context of a specific goal and it is neither positive nor negative.

Because there are kinds of influencing techniques that some people might use to manipulate others and some use them to persuade people away from a negative action. So, it all comes down to intent. Like in the above instance, Are you selecting what to communicate to people based primarily on getting your needs met, or are you doing it because you think that, what you are saying represents the best way for each one involved to understand the situation?

Manipulation is exerting shrewd or devious influence especially for one’s own advantage. Also, manipulative communications often result in others feeling pressured, controlled, doubt or question their own judgments or perspectives. People use manipulative strategy when they are incapable of using for what they want and need in a direct way.

For instance, If I am being manipulative, my intent becomes looking out for only my needs, so, I choose to tell you what i think you need to hear to get you to go along with what I need. People who manipulate others often try to control others, hide their intent avoid responsibility and make you doubt yourself and your perspectives.

Influencing others requires sharing a vision or a goal so each benefit from the vision and is aimed at win-win situation where it enhances the self-esteem of the other involved. In manipulation, you might get what you want but the other person may or may not and it is more about control and not cooperation and results in a win-lose situation.

Communicating to persuade others often results in people responding better because they are treated as respectful and self-directing individuals. Whereas manipulative style of communications focuses only on one’s own self-interest even if this means it is not in the best interest of others involved.

The fundamental difference between manipulative and influencing style of communication is influence itself. It becomes negative when one manipulates others simply for their own selfish purposes and is positive when one persuades others in order that all people involved obtain the results they want.

When Influence turns into manipulation

You can influence someone by understanding what motivates them and what doesn’t. For instance, you might get influenced by certain aspects of people whom you look upto in your life. You would want to emulate may be their confidence, discipline or kindness. Such positive influence always pushes one to achieve bigger and helps to see a different perspective, recognise new opportunity or to try something new.

Only when you understand a person’s nature, motivation or their motives, values, beliefs, emotional triggers, goals and desires behind their actions on certain ideas that you can influence people. But if you use the same understanding to influence them into something that benefits only you or to meet your needs, then it becomes manipulation.

When you communicate what’s important to you and convincing them to take a certain action that you desire by also aligning with their objective can be persuading. But when you don’t care about the consequences that befall the other person, then it becomes manipulation.

Similarly, choice makes all the difference when it comes to whether you too are being influenced or manipulated. When you get pushed or tricked into something you did not really choose or wanted, you get manipulated into. For instance, as kids we were excellent manipulators good enough to push others to get what we want. Many of us grow out of this manipulation habit. But some don’t. Some people use their emotionality to bend others to their will and care only about their own needs and put their self-interest above that of others.

And even those who are not manipulators and want to persuade others to take a positive action for their own benefit, also tend to cross that thin line without realising it. They might try to influence your behaviour or perceptions through indirect and sometimes deceptive tactics to advance their interests. As we are aware It’s a common tactic that’s often used by people in political, highly competitive business or work environments. But also it’s very likely that we ourselves might be doing that to people in our personal or professional life like our children, parents friends or colleagues.

What turns your influence into manipulation

Many people hold onto a frame or perspective that serves as their reference point for all the different aspects in their ilife. When we try to dominate or change this frame or perspective of theirs to benefit our own agenda or when we try to convince others into something that serves our self-entered interests, it make your communication manipulative.

To influence or to manipulate, you must know the how and why of a persons motivation, and utilise this knowledge to cause the action you desire a person to take, but the major difference is that while to influence you use it to the other persons advantage, whereas in manipulation you use it to yours. When someone is manipulating you, he or she gets you to adopt what they themselves regard as an inappropriate or false belief, emotion or other mental state.

There are of course many influencing techniques, tactics and strategies we use to influence others, but in doing so, many of us cross that thin line from something good and positive of influence into that of bad and negative manipulation.

So, What you should do so your initial desire to influence does not turn into manipulation

It is important to understand that to influence others, you should base your communication on a strong rapport and clear understanding of others’ goals, motivations and desires. Also, you should avoid taking advantage of peoples’ basic emotions like fear, anger or sympathy or to exploit their weaknesses. People who are insecure, overly empathetic, or worry about what other people think, are easily susceptible to manipulation, and you too might be crossing that line when it comes to such people.

A manipulative communication doesn’t come from a place of humility- it comes from a place of entitlement where you feel you are entitled to control others and think you know better than others. If you are communicating from a manipulative mindset, even if you are using the influencing tactics, your manipulative intent will eventually comes to light and will break the trust you may have built up in your relationships.

Do not rationalise your unreasonable requests.

Some of your unreasonable requests makes the other person feel insecure, inadequate or guilty and in order to have relief form those negative feelings, they do things going out of their way to meet your needs, even though doing so goes against their best interest. If you feel yourself causing the other person to feel negative emotions, then you might be slipping into manipulation.

It is important that you don’t rationalise by telling yourself the you are doing it for their own good. Instead question yourself; Are you communicating with genuine respect? Are your expectations and demands are reasonable? Is your communication one way or two ways? Do the other person has a say in this? Are you asking or demanding them? Can I achieve the same goal by being persuasive? When you ask such questions, you will be aware of your intent and if it feels unreasonable to you, you can withdraw your demand instead of insisting on getting your way.

Focus on your intent.

You must strive to be helpful and be solution-oriented so it helps the other person as well as you attain what you need. You should correct your intent and focus on win-win scenarios by being thoughtful, genuine, and authentic. This way you can earn other person’s trust and willingness to commit to change or pursue a particular course of action rather than forcing people involved based on position, trick or manipulation.

Question your intent by asking, How does what you are asking the other to do, align with his or her goals, needs, objectives or desires? does it align with his or her values? Am i doing something that will in any way hurt the other person or be contrary to their interests?

What problems are you helping him or her to solve? How will your suggestion or advice add value to his or her life?Are you damaging your long-term relationships for short-term gains with your tactics? Are your decisions based on mutual benefits? What is your intent? Is it ethical, positive and is it within the context? Are you being authentic about your influencing approach?

How to regain control if you are being manipulated

You know you are being manipulated when you are being psychologically coerced into doing something you probably don’t really want to do or if they are trying to control your situation through threat of punishment or intimidations. This makes you go through negative emotions like you might feel obligated to do it because of fear or negative consequences or guilty of not doing it. But the choice always lies with you whether you consciously choose to do or decide in congruent with your values and desires and not because someone manipulated you into doing it.

You can recognise you are being manipulated by being conscious of what is happening. Here are ways to deal with manipulation in your communication with others.

Be aware of your emotions

Interpersonal manipulation involves attempts to alter your point of view and often it makes the person getting manipulated feel uncomfortable. A manipulator might twist what you say and make it about them, hijack the conversation or make you feel like you’ve done something wrong. You might feel false sense of guilt or defensiveness.

Some unreasonable requests can make you go through negative emotions like stress, anxiety or discomfort. Often under stress, you will be more susceptible to manipulation. Some even resort to altering your emotions and increase your stress so as to manipulate. Being aware of your emotions lets you plan your action response instead of falling into the trap of manipulation.

Ask yourself: Am I feeling defensive, angry, or guilty of doing something wrong? Why do I feel this way right now? should I feel guilty or bad if I don’t do what the other person wants me to do? Do I really believe in the action or decision I am taking? Is it the right choice for me? Will this fetch me the outcome I desire? or Is it only in the best interest of the other person?

Set personal boundaries

In addition to making unreasonable requests, the manipulator will often expect an answer from you right away to maximise their control over you in a conversation. During such instances, instead of responding to the request right away, consider taking time you need to evaluate the pros and cons of a situation and consider whether you want to negotiate to their terms or you’re better off saying ‘no’. If you feel negative, say ‘no’ assertively without making any excuses and stand your ground while maintaining a workable relationship.

Remember, you can choose your choice with ‘free will’ and have the right to say ‘no’ without feeling guilty. If he or she insists on violating your boundaries and won’t take ‘no’ for an answer, assert consequences to stand down a difficult person as this will compel them to shift from violation to respect.

Maintain perspective control

Most instances of manipulation are not ill-intended. They might be simply trying to influence your point of view without being aware that they are manipulating or might be trying to get you to see their point of view. When you listen to understand their motives and perspectives, it can help you to better decide whether or not your perspective is right or wrong.

Your frame or your perspective is based on your experiences and values. Maintain control over your position and perspective in terms of what is true for you even when someone else has a competing perspective. Don’t cave into it just to please others. If you are not clear of what your position on the situation is, it is okay ask for some time to think about what they are saying.

If the other person is not agreeing to your point of view, Instead of criticising or blaming, you can engage in a conversation with the person about your differing perspectives. Depending on the consequences either choose to go along with their view or choose to walk-away.

Self-reflection space

What can you do to more consistently use influence instead of manipulating?

Which of the areas of your life do you think you can influence more and manipulate less?

How do you forge a better relationship with people in your life, by influencing or by manipulating?

Do you use influencing as a method to manipulate other peoples’s perspectives, behaviours, actions or decisions?

Do you allow yourself to get influenced or manipulated in your personal or professional areas?

Do you often check your intent and authenticity while trying to persuade others?

Are your influencing techniques improve or damage your relationship with the other?

Do you sometime rationalise yourself that you are influencing when you are actually manipulating?

To conclude,

We influence and impact people through our communication on a daily basis in our personal or professional relationships. Influencing communication style is what you should always choose pretty much all the time and avoid manipulative communication at all cost.

Acknowledge that there can be a fine line between the two. Spend some time to reflect on some of your own communication styles with your friends, family, children and coworkers.

Answering these questions can put you in a better perspective whenever you find yourself in influencing situation to make sure you are clear of your intent and be authentic so not to rationalise yourself into getting manipulative. And similarly, regain control of your perspectives when others are trying to control or manipulate when it comes to your perspectives or actions or decisions.

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