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Influence vs. Manipulation

By Taylor Duffy

Agile Fredericksburg had its second meetup on March 12th, where Agile coach, Julie Bright, spoke about the ethical side of Agile. Julie has a bachelor’s degree in Psychology and, fascinated by the social psychology of Agile practices, wanted to apply this knowledge to the Agile process.  Her topic of Influence vs. Manipulation was an engaging and controversial topic that had everyone talking about the grey areas of ethics and power.

Our discussion began by coming up with synonyms for coercion, manipulation, and influence, which Julie listed on three easel pads. For coercion, we came up with words such as force, directed, peer pressure, bullying, threats, and blackmail. This was the easiest of the three to find words that match.

For manipulation, we thought of incentives, sneaky, deception, shame, façade, power, insincere, and hidden. After finishing manipulation, we realized there were a lot of grey areas and words that would fit under both, and maybe even under influence.

For influence, we listed trust, guidance, passion, leader, mentor, partnership, and open. Our difficulty in coming up with different words proved how quickly influence can turn into manipulation, and manipulation into coercion. We wanted to dig deeper into the fine lines between the three.

Julie shared Dr. Robert Cialdini’s six key principles of persuasion to help us dive into the human psyche and find where power lies.

  1. Reciprocity: Humans feel the need to reciprocate. Julie talked about how when we receive a gift, we feel the need to repay that person and give them something in return. Tit for tat. If someone bought us a house, it would most likely make us feel uncomfortable because we probably couldn’t return the favor. The key to influence in reciprocity is being the first to give and making it personal. It must be something sentimental or important to the other person.
  2. Scarcity: There is influence in scarcity because people want what they cannot have. There are obvious examples, such as food, that would gain total power over people. However, there are less obvious examples of using scarcity for influence. For example, KISS decides to go on their last tour ever. Everyone fights to get tickets because there will no longer be a chance to see them after this tour. The key to influence in scarcity is making your scarce product or experience seem so important that people would really miss out if they didn’t have it.
  3. Authority: It is engrained in all of us to obey authority from a very young age. Seeing “Dr.” before Robert Cialdini’s name probably made you accept his ideas more than if he did not have that title. Letting people know you are credible will increase your influence and effectiveness.
  4. Consistency: People like to be consistent. It equates to being reliable and comfortable when you are in a conversation with someone. Influence can be found in the consistency principle by asking someone for small things. When you ask for something bigger, they will be more likely to agree because they want to be consistent with their decisions.
  5. Liking: This principle is simple. If you like someone, you are more likely to do something for them. Think about how different your response would be if a best friend from work asked you to get them some lunch when you ran to the store versus a stranger from work approaching you with the same request. A study took place with two different groups of businessmen and women who were trying to make a deal. One group went right to making the deal, while the other group spent a few moments getting to know each other and finding things they had in common. The study found there was a 35% increase in making a successful deal for the group that got to know and like each other.
  6. Consensus: Humans look to one another on how to act in certain situations. If you know you have jury duty for the first time, you are probably going to research what other people wear to court rather than just showing up in a ball gown. Consensus is powerful because humans don’t want to be alone in their decisions.

After discussing these six principles, we worked as teams, each picking one principle and explaining how it could be used in coercion, manipulation, and influence. It proved difficult to come up with firm examples, as a lot of them could fit under multiple categories. This class taught everyone the importance of what you say and how you say it, and the difference this can make in your ability to be a great influence rather than a manipulator.

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