I often see these two words used synonymously. As if being persuasive or manipulative were the same thing.
Although both are aimed at getting people to do what you want, this is a fundamental difference:
Our ability to make our own decisions.
To illustrate it, I’ll add a third term: Coercion, which doesn’t cause as much confusion.
It is when you are forced to act against your will; in other words, it eliminates your ability to make decisions.
Generally coercion is notorious; you know that someone is preventing you from acting or deciding for yourself.
And in that sense it is different from manipulation, which is usually covert.
Let’s say it’s a kind of coercion, but carried out in such a way that you don’t notice it.
The manipulator, through resources such as being passive aggressive, gaslighting or exploiting your guilt, gradually limits your ability to decide and act.
His goal is that you end up depending on him emotionally.
This way he can make you do what he wants you to do. He neutralizes your ability to decide.
It happens a lot in couples, where one of them ends up emotionally ‘caging’ the other.
Or in a work environment, when a passive aggressive person manipulates others by playing the victim.
Persuasion is a ‘cousin’ of manipulation and coercion, with an important difference:
In persuasion, the one who persuades does not limit the other person’s decision-making ability.
In other words, the one being persuaded has at all times the option NOT to do what is suggested.
His freedom is not compromised in any way.
For this, the persuader combines both emotional stimuli and rational arguments.
To make it clear: Yes, in persuading you want the other person to do what you want.
And in that, the goal is exactly the same as coercion and manipulation.
But both coercion and manipulation limit a person’s freedom; one in an overt way and the other in a covert way. In fact, manipulation applied over a long period of time wreaks havoc on the emotional balance of the manipulated.
However, there is an ethical dilemma, mainly between coercion and persuasion: You may think that coercion is ‘bad’, but in some cases it can be applied for good.
For example, when you forbid a young child to play in a place that may be dangerous.
You limit their freedom, but to prevent a risk.
On the other hand, there are people who use persuasion to make others do things against their own interests.
Such as a salesperson who persuades someone to buy something they don’t need.
The person is in control at all times… but his actions are not aligned with his best interests.
In the case of manipulation, there is no ‘positive’ angle, as there is nothing good to be gained from turning one or more people into emotional slaves.
To make it even easier for you, I propose a ‘persuasive checklist’.
– If the person has full knowledge that they are being forced to do something (whether or not it is for their ‘good’), it is coercion.
– If the influence is much more subtle or even subconscious, then it is either manipulation or persuasion.
– If the influence seeks to create an emotional slave through neutralizing their emotions, it is manipulation.
– Finally, if you only seek to convince someone to act on their own… but to do what you want them to do, it is persuasion.
You may still be uncomfortable with the term ‘persuasion’, but I don’t think there is anyone who has raised a teenager, who hasn’t resorted to persuasion at some point.
(Even if they didn’t know they were using it, or even how to define it exactly.)
An example of persuasion might be the following: a young man wants to go out on a Friday night with his friends, but the next day he has a sports competition, important to him.
As your average teenager, he believes that one thing won’t affect the other (we all had that phase of believing we were indestructible, right?). But you know all too well that it’s in his own interests to prioritize sleep for the next day.
Of course, you know that using coercion is going to have the OPPOSITE result to what you seek. So you have to resort to persuasion:
One mistake would be to claim that the night out would hurt his performance.
It’s logical reasoning, but… it goes against his beliefs: he BELIEVES he can enjoy both.
And that’s another important point I almost forgot about persuasion: to be persuasive you need enough emotional intelligence and empathy to recognize and connect with people’s beliefs.
You can’t fight their beliefs (unless, of course, you manipulate them… and you know how murky that path is).
In the case of the teenager, the strategy would be to ask him if it wouldn’t be better to reverse the order of the factors. Wait until tomorrow for the competition, and then go out with his friends tomorrow night (who will surely come up with something).
He could even then brag to them about the outcome of the competition (for which he would be fresh).
Another argument could be to put emotional pressure on him, reminding him of his own expectations about putting his maximum effort tomorrow (even more so if it’s a team sport).
There is also the trick of putting him in his coach’s shoes: how would he feel if after so many months of practice, his pupil did not show up fully fresh for a competition?
Notice that in all cases you seek to influence his decision, but ultimately the decision is his.
That is what persuasion is all about; subtle, sometimes emotional and sometimes rational, but always leaving the person the freedom to decide.
Of course, it’s essential to both read body language and ‘act’ with your own.
Think about it the next time you need to persuade.
Much Love and Bliss,