Persuasion And Influence. Good Or Evil?

Persuasion And Influence. Good Or Evil?

A 17 year old high school student strung out on drugs. It’s a parent’s worst nightmare (at least one of them). No doubt they’ve tried everything in their power to get their son into rehab center with the hopes of saving his life but he refuses help. Threats, pleading, legal pressure. None of it works.

Or, maybe they have a child in college who has been corrupted by a cult. They’ve tried everything to convince their child this cult is evil.  Reason, threats, emotional pleas and all have failed.

How do you get someone to do something against their will? Perhaps that’s the wrong question. How do you get someone to want to do something that’s good for them, maybe even save their life, even if they are dead set against it.

I’m not writing about a specific child with a drug problem or a college student brainwashed by a cult. It’s a composite of different articles I’ve read. One common theme I came across is that these well meaning parents did everything they could to help their child but they refused to accept the help.

When someone we care about has a problem, the kneejerk reaction is to tell them they have a problem and urge, plead and even threaten them to get help.

The problem with that approach is that it violates rule number one of persuasion. Never tell someone they are wrong for believing what they believe, thinking what they think or acting the way they act. Rather, lead them down a path where they can come to that conclusion themselves… and… give them the power and space to come to that conclusion on their own (avoid forcing it down their throats).

I don’t know if that would have worked in the stories I read about in the news. Drugs have unpredictable effects on the brain and decision making. Manipulative cults can be toxic under the right circumstances. Perhaps, though, if this strategy was tried before things had gone too far off the rails it might have made a difference.

I often get asked if persuasion is evil? Yes, it can be. If I use persuasion to sell you the Brooklyn Bridge, then yes it sure is evil.

But what if I use the same strategies to convince a drug addict to check himself into a rehab facility which ends up saving his life. What if I use it to rescue a twenty year old from an evil cult? I think most of us would say, do whatever you need to do in that situation to save a life. Not all situations are so black and white. Still, you know in your gut if you arere doing the right thing.

I’ve seen and come across others who teach persuasion and in their introductory comments they’ll say something like:

“I’ll share these secrets with you but only if you promise to use them for good and not evil. If you plan on using this for evil purposes, leave now. If I catch you using these strategies for evil purposes, you will be banned for life from this site.”

Of course, the absurdity of this comment is that an evil person would pay no attention to such a comment. It would not matter to them.

If the teacher is evil himself, it is more likely a wink at the student or a boilerplate phrase inserted to quell anyone who dares to criticize his motives.

If the teacher is honorable, the real purpose of a comment like that is to show all the good guys who want to learn persuasion that the teacher they are putting their trust in is also a good guy buy attempting to spurn the evil ones. This an example of subtlety, an important hallmark of persuasion. This kind of statement works a lot better than just shouting out: “I only use persuasion for benevolent purposes. I’m one of the good guys.” We’ll talk more about the use of subtlety another time.

If you’re a good person, you don’t need me to tell you to use persuasion or influence for good purposes.

Hopefully, you’ll use these tools to help people do things that will make their lives better.The tools themselves are not good or evil. It’s your purpose and intent that make it good or evil.

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