Persuasion vs Manipulation

Melbourne's Giant Coin Purse
What is the difference?

Some time ago, I had been trying to find the line between the concepts of Persuasion and Manipulation. This wasn't necessarily because I wanted to justify manipulation, but I did want to be more persuasive. Who wouldn't like to be more capable at getting what they want? This made me consider where the line of acceptability was. The problem, though, is that with some lines of thinking, people will misinterpret. They may assume you want them for unsavory reasons, or maybe just don't know the difference between right and wrong. 

I now see it as a process of moral discovery. The question: “What is the difference between persuasion and manipulation?” Actually think about it, and try to come up with an answer. If someone persuades you to do something, they change your mind to take a different perspective or course of action. Manipulation is… what? To get someone to do so without being aware that they’re being persuaded? To get them to act against their self interest? Or is it simply intent?
Manipulation as Hidden Twist of Luck

Let's start with the problem of being persuaded while all unawares-like. The line begins to blur because there are a lot of factors that play into being persuaded.

Have they had coffee? Have they been scared? Is the person being persuaded distracted? Tired? Surprised? Capable? Do they have time to consider it? Is the persuader attractive? Does the persuader appear knowledgable? Every single one of these subtle factors can detract or enhance the ability to persuade the person.

Maybe it's the angle that the person is knowingly slanting the scales in their favour. Imagine wandering into a dark room. You know there is a light, and you know where the switch is, but people think it's wrong to work with light on. Should you then fumble in the dark?

Where the Queen plays her Vidya Games
Suppose you were lucky and unaware, having everything lined up in your favour. Is that persuasion or manipulation? Now suppose, instead, you consciously changed the situation. Does that change it? If so, why is it worse to knowingly increase your odds? Why wouldn't you increase the odds of the outcome you want? Even children know not to ask for things when their parents are angry, but we don’t label them as manipulative for choosing a better time. It’s strategic and would be foolish to do otherwise.

Not sure which building this is,
but it looks nice
Manipulation as Taking Advantage

How about the second definition I proposed: getting someone to act against their own self interest. Would it be possible to get someone to act against their best interest without being manipulative?Would it be manipulative to get someone to make better decisions using the same tactics?

I think the problem comes down to the idea of free will. I ended up coming to the conclusion that persuasion was seen as something we are aware of, and manipulation is when people take away our conscious choice. Honestly, I still think this is a silly designation. As mentioned above, most of the factors that affect our decision are outside of our awareness. The same argument given at different times - or even slightly differently worded - can prompt different responses.

Locks of Love
Subtleties that Change Opinions

Take for example an experiment (which seems to evade my searching) done surrounding the idea of a man standing on a soap box in Times Square loudly promoting communism. People were asked two questions:

  • Should we stop this man from promoting communism?
  • Should this man be allowed to continue promoting communism?
The basic question is: what, if anything, should be done about this guy? The wording, despite being essentially the same question, dramatically changed the outcome of the poll. 

If you phrase it as “Should we stop him?” then we're taking away the man's rights, which he inherently possesses. In that situation, people said no, we should not stop him. If we say “should he be allowed?” the phrasing gives the impression that he doesn’t inherently have the freedom of speech, and that we should simply withdraw that privilege from him.

Just subtly rephrasing a question can change whether something as important as free speech will be upheld in popular opinion.

Street art, yo
Tying it Back In

Leading back to where we began in the post from Day 132: I was working through the difference between manipulation and persuasion when I was dating this girl. Anyone who knows me knows that I will talk about whatever problem I'm working through with whoever will be remotely interested. I spoke about this with her. This lead her to later condemning me as immoral, and wanted to remove all bad influences from her life. I was silently pruned out. Maybe she thought I was incapable of seeing the difference between right or wrong, or maybe she thought I was trying to justify personal manipulative behaviour. Really, I was trying to find the line between them, if there was one, and use it to consciously decide my action.

And now, I debate whether taking advantage of a $1.25 oversight is a moral lapse. Bitter Irony.

Editing Music: It's About Time by Young the Giant

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