How do you think about influence? Is influence really manipulation in a nice disguise?

When coaching a team on influencing strategies, I often get challenged about the true intent of influencing. Something along the lines “cut the _____, isn’t influencing really manipulation of a person or situation?”

I recently went back to the dictionary and found three definitions to consider:

Persuasion is “the act of causing people to do or believe something.”

Manipulation is “to use or change in a skillful way for a particular purpose” and a qualifier of ” shrewdly or deviously”

Influence is “the power to cause changes without directly forcing them to happen.”

You can see the common theme of  focus on change in others. What is distinctive? I say the key is whether you have an intent to force the change or indirectly bring the change into reality.

Real influence requires stepping back and thinking about the shared or complementary interests of key parties. It requires observations and consideration of the established patterns of actions, etc. Then, real influence is about finding or experimenting with strategies to use patterns and personalities to achieve those interests.

Why does this veil of implied “manipulation” stop us from digging in and using what we know to the best outcome? Is it the “shrewdly or deviously” part of the manipulation definition?

The interesting aspect to this challenge is that the person who raises the question is often the most well-intended of the team, and therefore the most likely to be successful in real influence.

What success would be possible for you if you thought of real influence as your personal power to produce an effect without forcing or directing the outcome?