A client hired me to write about this topic, and as I investigated, I decided that the topic was pretty interesting, so I’ll post the gist of my article here:
Each day, people try to influence others. I do it. You do it. Everyone does. Could be about something small. Could be about something major.
For instance, I spend a good deal of time on this blog talking about the merits of healthful eating. It doesn’t really matter to me, with any level of significance, what anyone else eats, because that simply isn’t my business….but on some level by writing about healthful eating I suppose I am probably trying to influence or convince you, the reader, to choose better eating habits so that you, too, can enjoy the many benefits of doing so. Trying to influence or persuade others is a natural thing to do.
There are numerous ways of persuading another person to do, think or feel something. It is my opinion that positive influence is the most effective and best way to do that.
Let’s break this down into understandable terms and take a look at some of the choices:
Influence is simply the power to cause changes without directly forcing them to happen: a person or thing that affects someone or something in an important way. I wish to positively influence others.
The operative point here is use of the term, “without directly forcing them to happen.” I, personally, believe that influence and persuasion are fairly interchangeable.
Persuasion is a voluntary choice on the part of the person being persuaded. While influence and persuasion can be used in negative ways, they are inherently the more positive of all of the ways of convincing someone else to do something, because neither tactic involves forcing someone to do something against his or her will.
Now, let’s talk about the nasty cousins of influence: manipulation and coercion. Usually, when people have a negative reaction to the word influence, they are actually conjuring images and ideas about these words:
manipulationManipulation is unfortunately and incorrectly equated with influence. It’s a bad thing, in my opinion. I guess it’s understandable that people equate it incorrectly with influence, since there really is only one small difference between the two . Manipulation occurs when someone exerts shrewd or devious influence especially for one’s own advantage.
coerceThe act of coercion is to make (someone) DO something by using force or threats or to GET (something) by using force or threats.
Coercion is probably the ugliest of the lot. It’s pretty much a do-whatever-it-takes approach. Brainwashing and torture fall under the heading of coercion, as do threats, screaming, hitting….Know what I mean?
How does coercion work?
The tactics of psychological coercion often involve anxiety and stress, and fall into seven main categories.
1. Restrictive techniques or exhaustive, exact repetition of demands.
2. Attempted establishment of control over the victim’s social environment, time, and sources of social support by creating social isolation; removing contact with family or friends who promote self-esteem, independence, positivity, and sense of well-being. Economic controls may contribute.
3. Rejection of alternate information and separate opinions. Rules exist about permissible topics to discuss. Communication is highly controlled.
4. Forcing the victim to re-evaluate the most central aspects of his or her experience of self and prior conduct in negative ways. The victim is made to feel like a “bad” person. Efforts are designed to destabilize and undermine the subject’s basic consciousness, reality awareness, world view, emotional control and defense mechanisms. The subject questions, doubts, and reinterprets his or her life and adopts a new “reality.”
5. Creating a sense of powerlessness by subjecting the victim to intense and frequently confusing, conflicting actions and situations which undermine the victim’s self-confidence and judgment.
6. Creating strong, aversive, emotional arousals in the subject by reactions such as intense humiliation, loss of privilege, social isolation, social status changes, intense guilt, anxiety, and manipulation.
7. Intimidation of the victim by implied power, size, voice amplitude, or implied threat. Psychological coercion can be applied to such a degree that the victim’s capacity to make informed or free choices becomes inhibited. The victim becomes unable to make the normal, wise or balanced decisions which they most likely or normally would have made, had they not been manipulated. The cumulative effect of psychological coercion can be an even more effective form of undue influence than pain, torture, drugs or the use of physical force or threats.
Coercive psychological systems violate the most fundamental concepts of basic human rights. They imply ownership of one person or group by another. They violate rights of individuals that are guaranteed by many declarations of principle worldwide. An interesting fact, however…..
Often, the victims of coercion will rebel against the person or entity using the coercion and may give the impression that they are following that person’s orders, when, in reality, the opposite is true. Bullies with a mentality low enough to attempt coercion, however, are clearly too stupid to realize this.