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Influence or manipulation

by Stephan Moons

Aren't they the same ?

A question I get now and then during sales training sessions.

First of all I would like to point out that we all start influencing our fellow man the moment we are born, and even before that...

Picture a couple that just found out they are pregnant. The prospect of having a child can make them happy, sad, worried or any other emotion depending on their situation. Before we are even crawling or walking around on the planet we are shaping thoughts and emotions in others:

  • Are we able to raise a kid?
  • Is my life going to be upset?
  • Will our child have a future in this mad world?
  • Do we have to move?
  • Hurray, I'm going to be a father. 

People may think they pass by unnoticed during their lifetime, but they would be amazed how they inspire (another word for influence) others just by being themselves.

Sometimes I find that students attribute a negative connotation to influence. As if it were something non-respectful and even despicable.

  • Should we try to convince others to buy our products, services or ideas. Isn't that just obtrusive and perhaps even aggressive?
    Aren't we 'manipulating' others?

I believe the true meaning of 'manipulating ' is the key to the answer...

By the way, if you are wondering about the answer I may already have influenced you...

When a sales rep of alarm-systems is telling you that you should care about your children by installing his equipment worth €2.000, and you start to feel guilty, annoyed or irritated, your very own
alarm-system has just gone off and warned you about manipulation. The sales rep's argument is in fact irrelevant and your fear and guilt emotions are being played on.

During any conversation remember to tune out now and then to focus on your own emotions and thoughts. What are they telling you? Are you still enjoying the moment or do you just want to get away?

Are you deciding yourself, or is someone else trying very hard to decide for you?

Are the arguments used relevant and corresponding to you real needs or are they playing on your emotions in a disproportional way:

  • Would you ever forgive yourself if your kids had to face a burglar in front of their beds in the middle of the night?

It's a thin line between influence and manipulation, and in general a clear distinction can only be made when dealing with extremes. 

An overzealous or very passionate sales rep may be perceived as manipulative.

I strongly believe a sales rep should also tune out now and then and observe his customer. Is everybody still OK with the situation, or is the mood becoming uncomfortable?

What needs to be done to restore trust?

Trust is the absolute basis for openness and acceptance.

When someone shares with you that something you once said really inspired him and made him change his mind, you have applied very subtle influence, probably even without being aware...

Everyone recognises the extreme forms of subtle influence and aggressive manipulation, but in between there are many grayscales. One person may perceive a certain action as manipulation while another might consider it an acceptable form of influence. 

In the end for me it all comes down to the following conclusion:

In my life so far...
I am glad and even thankful that some people have influenced me.
I am sad and even resentful that some people have manipulated me.

Have I got an alarm-system?


My trusted sales rep is more of a consultant who understands that influence is a bi-directional proces of discovering and offering.

That's why he started our first contact in the following way:

  • Thanks for receiving me. I guess it shows that safety and protection are important to you. To find out what I can mean to you I have a question: what are your concerns with regard to safety in your house?
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