The moral sense is always supported by the permanent interest of the parties. Else, I know not how, in our world, any good would ever get done.
—Ralph Waldo Emerson
In our Exercising InfluenceTM workshops, the issue of manipulation often arises. Many people are concerned about the ethical implications of being conscious and tactical about influence. There is some confusion about the distinction between manipulation and influence. A thesaurus suggests the following distinction: to manipulate is to maneuver, handle, exploit, or deceive. To influence is to induce, incite, persuade, or activate. Influence implies respect for the other; manipulation does not. There is nothing fundamentally unethical or dishonest about choosing your behavior and words deliberately in order to persuade or activate others to join you in taking action.
When asked the question, “How do you know that you have been manipulated?” groups of managers and leaders consistently say, “When the other has been dishonest with me, leading me to take an action I would not have taken otherwise.” When asked, “How do you know that you have been influenced?” the typical reply is, “I voluntarily choose to change or take action based on what the other did or said.”
Thus, there are two key issues that distinguish one from the other: (1) trust in the honesty of the influencer and (2) a sense of choice about the action. Influence implies ...