A sharp-dressed 35 year old man with a slick haircut and boots as shiny as Andy Dufresne’s walks out of his office to greet a young couple looking to buy their first new car.

‘Here they are’, the man thinks, ‘the first buyers for the day’.

Immediately he follows the system he has been taught – create rapport, build the need, fill the need with the right match and we have ourselves some commission! Lobster for dinner anyone?

3 kilometers away on the other side of town, a 4 year old girl with pig tails and a temper as short as Seinfeld’s Soup Nazi has just entered a screaming match with her mother, where the winner will be decided by not volume of voice but by persistence, determination and a willingness to scream longer than the opponent until one opinion wins over another.

Our 4 year old heroine is well practiced at this sport of kings and knows the strings to pull, the tonalities to deploy and the tactics to employ at just the right moments in order to get her way.

Finally after 6 minutes, the mother caves in. There will be a brand new dollhouse in the lounge room by the end of the day.

Meanwhile at the local high school, the “new kid” of 2 days conjures up the courage to mingle with the “cool kids”. With labels and categories of identity running rampant at your typical high school, it was going to take some of his finest moves to find himself at the top of the prestigious food chain that is adolescent popularity.

He approaches not timidly but rather consciously and deliberately confident. He introduces himself and attempts a joke to break the ice. And with a breath of relief, it works…

After about a week of repeating this ritual designed to prove his value, the “new kid” is now labeled with his own nickname and position in the pecking order and has found his perfect social fit for the foreseeable future.

Now lets take a look at what actually happened here. In all three of the above situations there were traces of:
– Influence
– Persuasion
– Manipulation
– Selling

But how do we really define and experience each of these?

How do we know when they have each been used resourcefully and ecologically? When does good persuasion go bad?

Traditionally there are negative connotations associated with the above terms but once again when we take a real look at the nature of each of these notions, we find that they are far more common than we think.

‘Influence’ is all around us. To break it down to its core, influence essentially means to have an effect on something.

That’s all it is, an effect.

You are being influenced by the words on this page in the same way you are being influenced by the chair that is supporting your back right now. Wherever there is an event occurring, there is influence being portrayed for all people and items in the environment.

The “new kid” was influencing the environment of his schoolyard by changing the social landscape of all his new friends school relationships, just the same as the introduction of a new government tax influences the way in which we pay them at the end of the year.

Again, influence simply equals effect.

Persuasion takes a small step further and can tend to be associated with more of a deliberate nature to changing our surroundings, and in this contextdeliberateness can be considered to involve a specific end goal or target to be achieved.

To influence is easy because we are doing it whether we like it or not, but to persuade would presuppose we have an outcome in mind we are looking to move someone else towards.

The pig-tailed girl we met in the second story was the embodiment of persuasion as she knew her outcome (a new toy) and knew the strings to pull to eventually get her mother to agree with her (that the dollhouse should be bought) – just one example of how we learn the tools of selling from the earliest of ages.

If we had rolled the camera forward on our car salesman friend, we would have seen him persuade the couple to purchase a new car that was (hopefully) a great fit for their needs, and he would have received a commission payment for doing so.

Just being present would have been influencing, but to move them towards a decision it required persuasion – quite a difference.

But what about manipulation?

Never would I want to associate a sales training that I either initiated or attended as learning how to ‘manipulate’, but the reason for this may be more social than purely logistical and definitive. Let’s explore…

Again, the term ‘manipulation’ at its core simply means ‘to be bent into shape’ and any other meaning that has been placed upon it is merely a projection of the collective mind of opinionated people (which is all of us, by the way).

Manipulation takes persuasion one step further and tends to take a more hands-on approach to changing minds. Where being ‘persuasive’ can be seen as a human character trait that is often respected and marveled at by others, being ‘manipulative’ tends to imply an in-depth control over the specific details of any given situation towards an uncontrollable outcome for the one being manipulated.

Manipulation doesn’t need to be seen as a negative action (though these days its going to be difficult to overcome that belief of the word, even as I write this I feel an aversion to the concept) but it does need to be used with the utmost responsibility and respect for the individual being manipulated.

Where persuasion gives another person options moving forward, manipulation tends to leave the decision in the manipulator’s hands, and we simply need to hope they have the best intentions for us. We have to hope the shape they know how to bend us into is one that will serve us, even if we sometimes don’t even know we are being manipulated.

It isn’t ‘manipulation’ that is scary, it’s the fact that people with conversational power can be difficult to trust that is scary. In which case, one would have full right to feel put off by a manipulative person particularly if no trust or rapport had been established previously.

If the young couple aiming to buy their first car had their sights set on a car that the salesman knew was going to cost them more money than it was worth, then his skills of manipulation into helping them to realise the value of a different set of wheels would be received gratefully.

If there were a positive aspect to ‘manipulation’, this is about all there would be to it.

On the other hand, if these same manipulative skills were used to sell a more expensive car that wasn’t a great match for the buyer, but earned him extra commission (2 lobsters for dinner, anyone?) then his manipulative behaviour would and should absolutely be frowned upon.

Again, manipulation is simply a word – it is the attitude and utilisation of it by people themselves that can be the issue.

And how about selling?

The truth about selling is that we are always selling something. Whether money changed hands or not isn’t the point here, its an exchange of energy that is the important part.

The salesman was selling a car – which is a product.

The 4 year old was selling an opinion – that she deserves a new dollhouse.

The “new kid” was selling an idea – that he deserves to belong.

Whenever we are communicating we are selling an exchange of thought regardless of whether money changes hands or not. And since it is impossible to not communicate (quite often silence says more than words ever could) it is therefore impossible not to be selling on some level. For some people they will often avoid this truth because their previous beliefs around what a ‘sale’ truly is to them is based on nothing more than a bad experience or two. The truth can sometimes be ugly and unpleasant but it is the truth that we must act from if we are aiming to be the best persuaders we can be.

Persuading and influencing with truth is what makes us great humans. It means acting with ethics, ecology and empathy for the other person receiving our message.

If we stripped away the social connotations of these buzz-words, what would we be left with?

And how would that change the way we see the world of sales and persuasion?

My guess is that we would be left with words that have neutral meanings, and we would have to begin to look inside ourselves to find out what the true issue is as opposed to deflecting responsibility to a group of words in the dictionary.

We would need to find a way to trust again, and for some people the mere thought of that is too scary to even comprehend.

Instead of buying into what people have made particular words mean, I choose to trust the fellow human around me to have my best interest at heart. I also trust you to make the decision that is right for you in the long-term, as there is no way I would expect you to share my opinion just because I said it is so.

If you are in sales, or are an avid follower of the Darcy J Smyth’s Tonal Persuasion Method all I ask is that you use the skills and knowledge you acquire ethically and in a way that helps other people make great buying decisions, and that you be grateful for the opportunity to be able to comprehend such knowledge.

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