Influencing or Manipulating?

Character is the difference. Is yours straight and true, or crooked and bent? Picture from Praia Nova, Senhora da Rocha, Alporchinhos, Algarve, Portugal

Recently I worked with a group where I introduced a concept from Stephen Covey’s, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, called the Emotional Bank Account.

Basically, the concept says that between any two people, we could envision that there is an account between us that has some numeric value, positive or negative.

When we want to work with someone, when we want to influence, persuade, or motivate someone, it is nearly impossible to do it with an account of negative standing.

When we have a negative account with someone, any action is often perceived with a lack of trust, any slight misstep or mistake as a critical failure of the person’s character.  It is one more nail in the coffin of an obviously deeply flawed individual.   And unfortunately, the good things they do or say are quickly discounted as an exception, certainly not the rule.

This is known as the fundamental attribution error, which we often use in stereotyping cultures, genders, age groups, etc, but we also apply it pretty consistently to anyone who has a negative account balance with us.

On the other side, when we have a highly positive account with someone, the same misstep or mistake is often discounted.  It’s seen as an anomaly, an action inconsistent with a generally good character.  We attribute it to environmental or circumstantial reasons, because of course, they are a good person.

However, we always have the chance to work on our account balance, particularly by making conscious contributions, or deposits.  And while I consistently remind people, we cannot change others, often, by changing ourselves, by changing how we treat and interact with someone, we do have a chance to change the behaviour pattern in between us.

The point that was raised in the group was that isn’t it manipulative, to think of making deposits to improve a situation?  

I argued that it isn’t manipulative, if we aren’t doing it for personal gain.  And in a sense, we are already making withdrawals to that bank account, so why is it ok to make withdrawals, but not deposits?

A lot of this has to do with mindset.  Is the world and life a zero-sum game?  If I give to you (especially the emotional bank account deposits of kindness, respect, recognition, and honesty), does it really take anything away from me or anyone else?  Is it manipulative to want to have positive bank accounts in most or all of my human interactions?

I have been experimenting in recent years with the power of kindness.  It started with work teams, to acknowledge people, to recognise their contribution.  This wasn’t because it would give me anything, I was really more curious to see what would happen.

What happened was that it was an immensely powerful positive cycle.  Each person who felt recognised, seen, and appreciated went about their day with a different energy and kindness to others they interacted with.

Is this manipulative?  To want people to be happy, recognised, acknowledged, and comfortable at work?  I certainly wouldn’t want the opposite.

Then I started experimenting in all my interactions around me:  Shop clerks, gas station attendants, post office workers, and dry cleaning attendants.  If I could see, acknowledge, recognise, and share a little kindness with them, what effect might it have?  I have experienced such tremendous joy in living since I started these little experiments.  

Maybe I am gaining from this.  Maybe it is manipulation because I am happier as a result of sharing joy with others.  Or, maybe I am a small part of making the world a better place?

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