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Today’s blog post is available on INSEAD Knowledge.

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Unethical influence and manipulation

(This is a repost from Filip’s original blog)

“Isn’t this stuff just manipulation?”. I look over toward the participant who just asked me this question. I’m not sure whether his tonality was indicative of a genuine question, or an accusation (which is why negotiators don’t phrase questions this way). So I explain: “Well, I would say that influence and manipulation both make use of the same tools, but I personally distinguish the two by viewing the former as ethical and the latter as unethical”.

So yes, the unfortunate result of this is that the insights in my upcoming book could theoretically produce both ethical and unethical negotiators. But I’m not worried. The good news is that the book also helps readers develop a healthy negotiation mindset. This involves educating the reader on the consequences of both ethical and unethical behaviours in negotiation. And once we understand the positive and negative flow-on effects from each approach, it becomes abundantly clear that an ethical approach is tremendously more valuable over the long term.

And while I don’t recommend unethical approaches to negotiation, I do encourage readers to keep their eyes and ears open to spot unethical negotiators out there. You can start doing this today.

In my book I share five approaches to influence. One of these is called “misrepresentation”. This involves leading the other party to believe that they are going to get what they want, when in fact they won’t. This is no different from lying, so this approach is then clearly unethical.

The sad realisation is that this is seems to be the predominate approach used in advertising today (And yes, advertising a subset of negotiation). We will see a headline that appeals to us, but we know that asterisk hides information that we won’t like. And while we can’t make out what the rapid and inaudible voice says in the last 1.5 seconds of a TV commercial, we know it is something that the advertiser would prefer that we don’t hear. And when we look at property advertisements we never read “a crappy, cramped and noisy unit for first time buyers on a low budget”, even when this would be the only accurate description. And we know that the models used to promote that new weight loss product or protein gainer don’t look like that as a result of the product. In fact, considering today’s digital enhancements we know that the model doesn’t even look like the picture! And let’s not forget the spiel in thousands of job interviews every day: “Just give us 5 years in this underpaid role that you don’t want, and then you will get everything you are looking for”.

Lies, lies and more lies…

So why did I pick today towrite this blog entry? Well, yesterday I spotted 7-Eleven’s ad for “Slurpee season, 13 flavours, 13 weeks”. The huge font at the top of the ad said: “NEW PINEAPPLE”. There was also a sizeable image of half a cup of slurpee on top of half a real pineapple.

Ironically, the relatively tiny font at the bottom read: “Fruit shown is illustrative of flavour only and is not an ingredient of the product”.