Over a period of years, or honestly decades, I’ve spent a huge amount of time, energy and money studying the human condition, human nature and the way that we process arguments and facts. Put another way, I’ve invested a lot in understanding the psychology of persuasion and learning how to present facts and interactions in a manner that will be more likely to persuade somebody to my point of view.1
I’m actually far more effective at this in print than I am in face-to-face conversations, which is probably why, for years, I’ve resorted to print as my prime tool for both expression and persuasion. It also is one of the things that has led me to be reasonably successful writing copy.
And, last week I had the great pleasure of presenting on “writing that moves people to action” as part of an online conference on writing. During the hour or so that I was speaking, I shared a number of principals of persuasion – tools and techniques to take the psychology of persuasion and translate it to print. And, I shared and demonstrated a number of pointed strategies and tactics designed write in a way that persuades people to your opinion, to your argument, or to actually buy a product, service or idea.
The last 15 minutes of that presentation were reserved for Q&A and during that time I got some really great questions diving deeper into some of the strategies and principals. Then, somebody asked an interesting question one that I’ve been asked a whole bunch of times in the past…
Aren’t you just teaching us how to manipulate people in print?
It’s a fascinating question.
The way I answered that question during this call, and the way I’ve answered it in the past, is that the difference between persuasion and manipulation lies largely in underlying intent and desire to create genuine benefit.
Understanding how people form opinions, arguments and present and integrate facts into their mental models is mission-critical in your ability to convince anybody to buy into an idea and then act on that idea. That’s the essence of persuasion.
The difference between persuasion and manipulation lies in:
1) The intent behind your desire to persuade that person,
2) The truthfulness and transparency of the process, and
3) The net benefit or impact on that person
Manipulation implies persuasion with the intent to fool, control or contrive the person on the other side of the conversation into doing something, believing something, or buying into something that leaves them either harmed or without benefit.
It may also imply that you are concealing a desire to move them to your point of view in a way that will benefit you. And if this benefit were disclosed, that revelation would make the other person far less receptive to your message because it would either:
- Demonstrate a strong bias towards their lack of benefit in the exchange,
- Demonstrate an ulterior motive for the attempt at persuasion, often driven by one-sided benefit, or
- Some combination of both.
- Fields, J. (2010-06-24). The Line Between Persuasion and Manipulation. Retrieved from http://www.jonathanfields.com/the-line-between-persuasion-and-manipulation/ ↩