Manipulation versus Influence, the difference is very subtle; however, there is a difference. Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you are thinking “Am I crazy? Is it me?” I know I have.
Influence and manipulation are clearly related as they both contain elements of subterfuge and dishonesty, but the difference lies in the intention of the engineer. Influence respects the target’s well-being and health. Manipulation is not often hindered by these concerns.
When you are led by a leader that manipulates versus influences, you will almost always not feel quite right about the situation. You may question your sanity and thought process and almost always feel confused. I recognize this feeling immediately because this has happened to me many times in my life. When this happens It has a negative effect and derails your confidence. This is easier to spot in our personal relationships; however, in a working relationship with your boss or peer, it can be ever so slight and may not be easy to recognize. One because you report into this person and you may believe they can tell you what you need to do. And secondly because you may be fearful of speaking up in fear of losing your job.
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Being manipulated can put us on a downward spiral to self-doubt and defensiveness, it makes us question our abilities and talent. It can make us feel like we are losing our minds. We can become less confident communicators and feel like what we are saying doesn’t make sense.
Also, the leader that is manipulating others to get the outcome they want may not label it as such. Leadership is influencing, nothing more nothing less, as John C. Maxwell says. They may disguise their manipulating behaviours as influencing skills. They may even believe that what they are doing is exercising excellent influencing skills. If you were to talk to them, they would think of it as strategizing “how to get the outcome they want” by finding approaches that convince others. They may even discuss strategies with you to get the result they want and think that it is best. Managing performance versus managing people’s character is a very different perspective. Think about this when you are trying to get your people to move, agree or accept what you are asking them to do.
Influencing others takes trust and the ability to help others discover themselves the benefits of taking action and/or agreeing to something. When I needed to gain my team’s buy-in, I shared the benefits and a convincing statement. Still, I would also discuss the reasons why, and answer as many questions as I could to help them understand my vision and point of view.
Leadership can be difficult. People are not cookies, and the more we understand this, the easier it becomes to accept that we may be challenged about our decisions and strategies. I prefer a team to challenge me versus follow along with something that they don’t believe in, in fear of getting in trouble for not following the direction set.
So how do you know you have crossed the line of manipulation versus influence?
- When you find yourself thinking about how to change the narrative for others on a situation
- If you have to shape the way someone sees a situation to control the outcome. (even if you think you are doing it for someone’s benefit, then you may be manipulating them.
- If you find yourself not being 100 % honest about a situation to get the other person to follow.
- And if you find yourself thinking about how to get people to see the faults in others from your perspective, not their own.
It is ok to influence people for their own benefit? If what you are doing is not benefiting that persons well being, then you may have crossed the line. Being sincere and genuine in your leadership matters.
If you are feeling confused or doubting yourself, then you may have a leader who is practicing manipulation versus influencing.
After my divorce, I was seeking help to deal with manipulation versus influencing. I remember saying to my therapist “I could never speak my mind and felt like I was stupid, and what I had to say didn’t make sense, so I thought I had not been honest with how I felt in the situation. “ He turned to me and said remember this, it takes two people, and if you could not speak your mind, it was because he did not create a safe space for you to speak your mind. When this happens to you it is because the other person is focused on manipulation versus influencing.
This was a good reminder; the same goes for leadership.
When we feel confused we may be experiencing manipulation versus influencing. This could be intentional or not; however, when you find yourself in a situation where you may feel this way, here is a way to deal with it.
- Say I am confused right now, can you please tell me what you just said.
- Why are you telling me this?
- I am not clear on what you are asking me.
- If you think that’s a good idea, go ahead and let me know the outcome.
- I need time to digest this.
- I am not sure, give me some time to reflect. We can talk later.
- I am not sure why you think like that.
- I do not see it that way; however, I am not trying o change your view.
- That is not what I heard.
- I would appreciate it if we could stop discussing this and review it later.
- What do you need from me?
- Why are you telling me this?
- I do not agree.
- I am confused in this conversation please explain what you mean.
Just remember nobody should make you feel confused or question your own abilities and thinking. It is fine to be questioned and challenged this is a part of a healthy relationship. But if someone makes you wonder who and what you believe in, then take a step back and ask yourself, are you experiencing manipulation versus influencing?