PEOPLE – What is Ethical Persuasion?

Influence PEOPLE – Powerful Everyday Opportunities to Persuade that are Lasting and Ethical. Can we persuade others in an ethical manner? My nephew Max asked me about that a while ago and that prompted this series of posts on PEOPLE. We’ll explore the ethics of influence this week in the last article of this series.

Interestingly enough I first made contact with Dr. Cialdini because of ethics. Stanford University had come out with a new marketing piece advertising his best selling video on the principles of influence and the headline read, “Call it influence, persuasion, even manipulation…” I emailed Stanford and told them since no one wants to be manipulated and no one wants to be known as a manipulator that word could not be helping sales. Shortly after my email I received a call from Dr. Cialdini’s office thanking me and letting me know Stanford was changing their marketing of the video.
Manipulation isn’t bad when we use it to refer to things like a carpenter manipulating the wood he’s working with. However, when it comes to people the connotation is always negative because it implies shrewd and unfair dealings. As I noted above, people don’t want to be manipulated and no one with an ounce of integrity would want to earn the title manipulator.
I do believe we can ethically persuade others and influence them in non-manipulative ways. College courses are taught on ethics and books are written on the subject so no doubt some of you might have questions after reading this short post. I encourage you to leave comments and I will do my best to respond.
My challenge as someone who teaches others about sales and persuasion is to distill the question of ethics into something quick and easy so it can be used in real world situations. All too often we don’t have time to consider every aspect of ethics nor do we have time to debate hypothetical situations.
Having shared that, I believe we can be ethical in our attempts to persuade others in everyday situations if we’re doing two simple things. First, we have to be honest and forthright in what we share. Sharing untruths and half-truths to get your way won’t cut it, especially if the person you’re attempting to persuade questions your integrity because of your presentation of the facts.
Second, we should always consider the well being of the other person we are trying to influence. Is what we want them to do really in their best interests as well as ours? This goes to the heart of what Stephen Covey called a “win-win” outcome. If we believe what we’re asking them to do will benefit them and not just ourselves we can usually feel good about proceeding with our attempt to persuade.
A couple of questions might come to mind with what I just wrote. First has to do with the facts. As I shared in an earlier post on politics, people will present information in a way that best highlights their case. Was the state income tax increase from 3% to 5% a 2-point increase or a 66% increase? It’s factual to say either. One side says 66% to arouse emotion to persuade people to vote against the tax increase while the other side emphasizes it will only cost voters two percent of their income. I don’t think either side is being unethical but each has an agenda so we need to be aware of all the facts so we can make the most informed decision.
The question my nephew raised had to do with whether or not the person persuading truly knows what’s best for the other individual or group. I don’t think anyone always knows what’s best for other people. As the father of a teenager I’m attempting to influence Abigail all the time. I believe I know what’s best for her but as she grows up and continues to develop her own ideas, views and interests it may not always be the case that I know best. I don’t think that negates my good intentions because I do believe what I ask of her is in her best interests.
Sales can be very much the same. Is my company’s insurance right for everyone? No, but assuming agents who represent us have prequalified potential customers – they should assess their needs and match them to the best company(s) – they should feel confident when they decide to present State Auto as a solution. The potential customer will make the final decision because they will know best what they need. The role of the agent is to inform them and make a recommendation as the expert.
What I find manipulative is when someone presents information in a manner to influence other’s thoughts and behavior when they know revealing the larger context would change people’s opinion. For example, early on in the presidential campaign Republicans showed a video clip of President Obama and chided him for certain statements. What most people didn’t know was the clip was edited to manipulate people’s thinking because in actuality President Obama was quoting Senator John McCain’s words from the prior election. When asked if this was right, former RNC Chairman Richard Steele said there was nothing wrong with it! Sorry, but I think that’s sleazy politics.
Having shared that I’ll say the Democrats did something similar when they hammered former Governor Romney when he said he was willing to let the auto industry go bankrupt, as if the doors would close, everyone would lose their jobs and we’d no longer make cars in the United States. That wasn’t the whole truth because they conveniently left out the larger context. Romney wanted the automakers to declare bankruptcy to get out from under certain debts and reorganize as many large corporations have done over the years. That’s a very different picture than doors closed and assembly lines stopped.
Obviously this is a deep subject, much too deep for a short blog post. However, I hope it’s prompted your thinking about the subject. In closing my encouragement would be twofold:
  1. Do your homework so you know what you’re asking someone is truly good for them as well as you. Make it a win-win to the best of your ability.
  2. Make sure you’re honest in your communication and if context is needed then supply it.
I believe if you do these two things you’ll be able to look yourself in the mirror and sleep well at night. A side benefit is the trust you’ll gain will make it easier for you to work with and persuade others down the road because you’ll be building a good reputation.
Brian, CMCT
Helping You Learn to Hear “Yes”.
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