For the last ten years I have been teaching various programs that are based on NLP, and since 2008 I have been a trainer on internationally recognized NLP Practitioner, Master and Trainers trainings. More than 1.000 people attended my trainings.
The most frequent question that I get from people who are new in NLP is whether NLP is a form of manipulation.
To answer this question I did a research on what different sources say about manipulation, and what is the difference between persuasion, influence, and manipulation?
Persuasion vs. Influence vs. Manipulation
My research showed that several different sources have similar description of these three categories:
Persuasion is an umbrella term of influence. Persuasion can attempt to influence a person’s beliefs, attitudes, intentions, motivations, or behaviors. In business, persuasion is a process aimed at changing a person’s (or a group’s) attitude or behavior toward some event, idea, object, or other person(s), by using written or spoken words to convey information, feelings, or reasoning, or a combination thereof. Persuasion is also an often used tool in the pursuit of personal gain, such as election campaigning, giving a sales pitch or in trial advocacy.
Social influence occurs when one’s emotions, opinions, or behaviors are affected by others. Social influence takes many forms and can be seen in conformity, socialization, peer pressure, obedience, leadership, persuasion, sales and marketing. Social influence is not necessarily negative. For example, doctors can try to convince patients to change unhealthy habits. Social influence is generally perceived to be harmless when it respects the right of the influenced to accept or reject and is not unduly coercive. Depending on the context and motivations, social influence may constitute underhanded manipulation.
Psychological manipulation is a type of social influence that aims to change the behavior or perception of others through abusive, deceptive or underhanded tactics. By advancing the interests of the manipulator, often at another’s expense, such methods could be considered exploitative, abusive, devious, and deceptive.
So what is the difference between these three categories?
- Manipulation is almost always a short-term strategy. With manipulation, neither party, benefit over the long term.
- The person knows that the end result is not good for other people, but he/she still puts personal interests above interests of everyone else. Consequences that befall the other person are not important.
- The person usually doesn’t believe (no emotional connection) in what he/she is saying.
- Manipulation is all about getting someone to do something.
- Manipulation can happen even when there is trust between people.
- The person takes into consideration others’ needs and desires.
- The person wants to influence because he/she believes that the end result is good for both sides. This is usually connected with the intention of building long term relationship.
- The person who is influencing is emotionally involved, and strongly influenced by what he/she is talking about.
- The person believes that there is something good for the other side.
- Influence is about supporting someone to make a decision that is aligned with his/her own values, goals, and interests and in a direction that serves the needs of the influencer. In other words, a win-win proposition.
- The fundamental element of the influence is trust.
Persuasion is more about the process. It usually lasts for a longer time and it might contain both social influence and manipulation. For example, political parties are starting persuasion process when elections are announced. It usually contains elements of social influence and elements of manipulation.
How does NLP fit in this story?
NLP is a process oriented methodology. NLP is interested in how each of these processes operates. What is the structure behind each of them? NLP doesn’t evaluate if actions or end result is good or bad. Good NLPers have child’s curiosity. They are interested in how it is even possible that something like “this” is happening (whatever “this” might be)?
Person A knows how to influence person B.
Person B is master of manipulation, and C always takes a bite.
Person C knows how to persuade both of them to be part of the project.
If you have possibility to work with a master of persuasion with NLP you can learn how to become persuasive, and create the model of persuasion.
If you have possibility to work with a master of influence with NLP you can learn how to become influential, and create the model of influence.
If you have possibility to work with a master of manipulation with NLP you can learn how to become manipulative, and create the model of manipulation.
NLP will not tell you if something is good or bad. You need to decide for yourself. A knife is neither good nor bad. It’s a tool. If you want to rob a bank, using a knife could get you in trouble. But if you needed to survive in wilderness, it would be great to have one.
How the hell did NLP get connected with these topics?
One of the first subjects whose work was analyzed by the creators of NLP was Milton H. Ericskon. Milton was psychotherapist whose specialty was conversational hypnosis. He used it in order to influence his clients to make a positive change in their lives. He used to say:
I give my clients the possibility to to do exactly what I want, but in their own way.
Through the process of modeling creators of NLP got the structure of his language patterns and they described it in the book “Patterns of the Hypnotic Techniques of Milton H. Erickson”. The authors of NLP didn’t write the book about NLP. They wrote a book about what they had discovered by applying it.
Once these communication strategies were uncovered, they became part of NLP programs. People who learned these strategies started applying them in many different areas: in sports, management, sales, personal relationships…
Can these strategies be applied for the purpose of persuasion? Yes, they can.
Can these strategies be applied for the purpose of influence? Yes, they can.
Can these strategies be applied for the purpose of manipulation? Yes, they can.
As with any other tool, each person will individually decide in what way the tool will be used.
Strategies cannot be manipulative, influential, or persuasive – it depends on you and the way you apply them.