Are You Being Fooled? Influence vs. Manipulation

Written by Melissa Kessler, MA, PCC

There are many ways to influence people. Some are sincere and well-intentioned, and others are more sinister in nature. Can you tell the difference? Do you know when you are being influenced vs. manipulated? I would argue that in many cases, you do not, because it is frequently done subconsciously by the media and advertising. We believe that all of our choices are conscious, but in reality, most of our behavior is unconscious. According to Eric Kandel, a neuroscientist at Columbia University who received a Nobel Prize for his work on memory, 80-90% of the mind works unconsciously, meaning without our awareness. Most of the time we are on autopilot as we go about our day, engaging in our regular routines and habits. Part of our routine may include watching TV, listening to the news, or engaging in social media, where we see and hear messages that get into our subconscious minds without our awareness.

Much of what we see and hear on TV and in the media (social included) is aimed at convincing us to buy something, adopt certain beliefs, or engage in specific types of behavior. This is done through several methods that usually fall below our radar, so we are not consciously aware of it. These sneaky tactics include using specific words to invoke emotion; appealing to our needs for safety, health, financial security, and social affiliation; creating a false sense of scarcity (Hurry! Supplies are limited!); inciting fear; exaggerating benefits/outcomes, omitting truths, and even making false claims. You may even see reciprocity in ads, where you are offered something for free, so that in turn, you make a purchase. Have you ever fallen for any of these? I know I have. This is manipulation, where it serves the other party and their own purposes more than it benefits you. This breeds distrust.

True influence comes from the influencer having an intention of serving your best interest more than their own. This builds trust. As a coach, I regularly influence leaders in a way that best serves their needs and interests. One way I do this is by first listening to them – really listening to understand their circumstances, their perspective, their beliefs, their needs, and their emotions. Then I share what I think I heard, and ask if I have it right, so they feel respected and understood. Lastly, I ask if they would be open to another possibility/observation/perspective. I have found that people tend to be more open to new ideas and possibilities once they feel heard and understood. You can practice this to build relationships and become more influential in your personal and professional life. However, you must genuinely have the other person’s best interest at heart and really be willing to see things from their perspective, or else it will backfire on you and break trust. If you have selfish motives and only go through the motions to try to get what you want, people will see right through it. You will be perceived as insincere and manipulative.

I hope that you will become more consciously aware of the types of language and tactics used by the media and advertising, so you can avoid being manipulated. I also hope that you will practice the art of influence to build trusting relationships in your personal and professional life. There is no better way to influence others than by being trustworthy.

“Be selective about your external influences. Your multi-dimensional brain is influenced by everything you see, hear, read, smell, touch, feel or say.” – Brian Tracy

“Because everything we say and do is the length and shadow of our own souls, our influence is determined by the quality of our being.” – Dale Turner

“It’s easier to fool people than to convince them that they have been fooled.” – Mark Twain

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