The Art of Influence Without Manipulation


It’s Tuesday morning, and Dan is running a little late for his annual physical. He’s been seeing his doctor on a yearly basis for over a decade. As he puts the key in the ignition, he smiles and thinks, “I know how this is going to go.”

Sitting in the examining room waiting for his doctor gives Dan a little time to reflect on the year since his last visit. He promised to take off some weight. Instead he has put on a few pounds. He promised to exercise more. He has been exercising less. Business is tough, and who has time to exercise? Besides, he’s exhausted by the time he gets home from work.

When Dan’s doctor finally does appear, the appointment, and the lecture that go with it, don’t disappoint. “Dan, you need to make certain lifestyle changes!” Dan nods and promises he will, but deep down both men know that no changes will take place. They are both wrong.

Two months later it starts with a shortness of breath, and some pressure in Dan’s chest, which goes away as fast as it started. Then the shortness of breath and pressure recur, escalating rapidly to discomfort in one of his arms, and nausea. His wife rushes him to the hospital where Dan’s life is saved.

Of course, the double bypass he must endure is more brutal than he ever could have imagined. The missed work, the rehab, and the financial issues with an operation like this are also part of Dan’s story. Today, my friend Dan is doing well. Not surprisingly, he’s finally taken the weight off, and he has developed a steady and disciplined exercise routine.

This kind of frank and harsh scenario plays itself out over and over again, every day of the week, every week of the year, and every year of a lifetime. Sometimes it’s a different vice, or no vice at all. It can be as simple as a poor study habit, or as complicated as an emotional scar stemming from a dysfunctional childhood. The players change, and certain elements of the plotline change, but the results are the same. And there’s often a sense that there’s nothing we can do about it. But I believe we can do something about it, and I want to show you exactly how.

In the early nineties when I was still with Xerox, my job was to work with outside clients who wanted to learn how to persuade the “Xerox way.” I saw all kinds of clients you would not necessarily connect to selling, who had no difficulty connecting to the message of changing minds. However, a favorite client was one of the nation’s largest churches. I was hearing the same story with a different client: “We want to help people find their way. Unfortunately, those who really need us don’t want our help.” (You probably know the rest of the story.) “It seems that those who do want our help and are seeking us out always seem to be coming as a result of a recent tragedy in their lives.”

What a coincidence. Or is it? The church in question became one of my best clients. Why? Because in less than five minutes I was able to convince the ministry that to save people, they had to stop preaching, and instead learn how to influence behavior and give the plotlines they were describing a good, old-fashioned push. When I formally taught them how to persuade, they succeeded, and are now one of the largest churches in the country.

Now notice, I didn’t say “pitch,” I said “push.” So many people get squeamish when they hear the word “push.” It sounds like you are shoving people toward a solution they cannot seem to find on their own. Guilty as charged; that’s exactly what I’m proposing. Boiled down, we are often faced with only two choices: Either pitch a solution to someone, or push someone toward it. The focus of this book is a defense of the latter, because when it comes to changing minds, I’m no fan of the pitch.

It’s Not a “Pitch,” It’s a “Push”

I received an email from a good friend who asked me what I thought of the word “pitch.” She was relating it to a salesperson she worked with who had an uncanny way of using the word to describe his daily sales activities, reveling in it every time. Never shy, I presented my opinion in three words: “I hate it.” I can hear my mother now: “Hate is such a strong word.” So, out of respect for my mother, let me put it this way: “I’m offended by it.”

Let’s do a little test. What is the first thing that comes to your mind when you hear the word “pitch”? Something tells me your first thought is not “ask questions” or “listen.”

Maybe I’m too emotional here, so let’s consult Webster’s, which defines “pitch” as a high-pressure sales talk. Imagine setting up a meeting with a client, or phoning a friend to say, “For the record, I intend to have a high-pressure sales talk with you.” Sounds like a surefire approach to getting the click of a hang-up in your ear.

I suppose you could just surprise your friend with your pitch, but I think you get the point here. If this is something we have no intention of doing, and it’s offensive to anyone you speak with, why is this word still even in use?

The irony here is that true influence in its purest form could not be further from the concept of a pitch. In fact, it’s the complete opposite. Instead of talking, it involves listening. Instead of hammering on a one-idea-fits-all concept, it involves shaping the solution to fit another person’s specific needs. Instead of obsessing on a solution, it involves studying another person’s potential problems.

As a parent, spouse, manager, or friend, our part of the plotline is always the same. We want to influence behavior, and we want to help, but we just don’t know how. It’s a fascinating paradox because we know what the solution is! It’s so clear to us! We often rehearse what we need to say. Once we say it, we are hurt, if not shocked, that our well-rehearsed words seem to have no effect on the person we are trying to help. The reason for this is that most of us don’t know how to give those we are trying to help the push they so desperately need. We don’t know how to change minds.

Is it because we don’t believe we have the right to do so, ethically? There is a moral line between influence and manipulation, but before we discuss it, let me repeat, you must believe that “influence” is not a bad word. It all begins with believing.

There can be no substitutes, no do-overs, no thinking about it. You must believe in your solution.

Why do I tell you this? Because, before we can start our journey to influence, we must create a foundation from which to begin. That foundation is based on belief.

Ask yourself this simple question: “Do I believe, without a shadow of a doubt, in what I am prepared to influence another person to do?”

Sound corny? I hope not, because it’s one of the most important questions you can ever ask yourself. I’m about to take you on a journey that will unlock doors that have been previously closed to you. My commitment to you is not only to teach you to influence others, but to give you tools that will be repeatable and predictable. But there’s a catch. You must believe in what you are influencing others to do.

A Crisis in Believing

We need to believe. We need to believe that the act of influence is not a skill that should be ridiculed or questioned. It should be inspected, respected, and, dare I say it, admired. But it starts with believing. Believing there is a desperate need for people who can save us from our inability to question ourselves. Yes, there are scenarios begging for these skills.

There is a murky line between the art of influence and the act of manipulation. When you see the scenarios that demand influence, and the line that exists between that and manipulation, you will no longer fear the act of influence. You will believe.

(To continue reading more of Rob Jolles’ book, see the article titled “Committing to Change” in the article archives.)


Rob Jolles draws on more than 30 years of experience in sales and management as he teaches audiences worldwide how to change minds. He is also author of Customer-Centered Selling and How to Run Seminars & Workshops. Rob lives in Great Falls, Virginia.


Excerpted with permission from How to Change Minds: The Art of Influence Without Manipulation by Rob Jolles (c) 2013 Rob Jolles (Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 

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