Fear Isn’t a Tool of Influence

When I talk about being an expert in Influence to people, I very often get back a comment along the lines of, “Oh, so you’re a professional manipulator!” or “So, can you make my husband do the dishes?” I sometimes even come across someone who is so cynical and jaded he might say something like, “Oh, so you basically make people do what they don’t want to do.”

Blog images (3).png

This article is a response to those questions, and a discussion into the difference between influence, manipulation, and coercion.

Let’s start with a definition of each:

  1. Influence: the power to change or affect something
  2. Manipulation: exerting shrewd or devious influence, especially for one’s own advantage
  3. Coercion: the act of making someone do something by using force or threats

Yes, all three are related to changing someone or something, but influence is neutral. It’s neither positive or negative. Manipulation and coercion are definitely in the negative camp. My every day distinction between the three is this: Influence is about aligning goals, and showing people that what you want is what they want too. Manipulation is making people do something for your benefit, even if it’s not in their best interest. Coercion is making people believe that your way is the only way.

The classic feeling associated with being influenced is Inspiration. Influence inspires people to help or follow because doing so will help them too. This is how influence grows with you, because people WANT to be a part of your universe.

The classic feeling associated with being manipulated is resentment. The manipulated party feels tricked or taken advantage of by the manipulator. Common manipulation strategies include gas-lighting, moving the goal post, making blanket generalizations, and name-calling. The manipulated person will eventually concede, but not on his/her terms. And he/she will search for ways to escape from under the thumb of their manipulator. I see this show up in small ways like a manager promising a promotion after a certain milestone is met, only to move the milestone later, or a mom offers her kid a piece of candy for quieting down, only to decide later that he also has to tie his shoes and share the treat with his sister. Don’t manipulate people. It won’t lead to long-term success.

Coercion is about fear. Blackmail and extortion are classic coercion techniques, but you’ll see it in organizations and in relationships in more innocuous ways. A friend of mine had a boyfriend who threatened suicide if she broke up with him. A boss might threaten to fire an employee. Bullying, a topic that took main stage with the growth of the internet, is coercion.

At wolf & heron, we don’t advocate for manipulation or coercion, and find it frustrating when people conflate them with influence. Influence is an art and a science, and in the end it gets people all working in the same direction. Influence is what will change the world.

-- Stephanie Judd, cofounder, wolf & heron