INFLUENCE AND PERSUASION:
THE CRUCIAL DISTINCTION IN DIFFICULT CONVERSATIONS
September 19, 2020
Both persuasion and influence, when well-informed, well-intentioned, and used in appropriate context, have important roles to play in our daily lives. However, when it comes to difficult conversations pertaining to repairing or maintaining a relationship, Robyn encourages influence over persuasion every time.
When I ask participants in my Courageous Conversations training sessions for their understandings of the difference between “influencing” and “persuading” there is usually general agreement that the two do differ but less agreement on how or why. Then, someone in the group usually asks me – “Does it even matter? Isn’t it just semantics?”. This is a fair question, given that in our day-to-day interactions, the two terms are often used interchangeably without causing confusion or divergent outcomes.
However, when it comes to having an important, difficult conversations, or managing a conflict, understanding the distinction is, I believe, critical.
Let’s start with the definitions
‘Persuade’ comes from the Latin per- (through to completion) and suardere (advise). Its current definitions are along the lines of: ‘induce/coax/make/get/lure/sway/convince…someone to do something through reasoning or argument’.
‘Influence’ originates from the Latin in- (into) and fluere (to flow), and its modern definition is: ‘the capacity to have an effect on the character, development, or behaviour of someone or something, or the effect itself’.
There are two key differences, as I see it
Firstly, timing differs.
Persuasion is often used when time of the essence and quick action is required or desired. For example –
A marketer uses a flash or short sale to coax you into making a purchase
A service professional tries to get a client to promptly pay an overdue bill, whilst preserving the ongoing business relationship; and, at the extreme,
A firefighter tries to convince a terrified person to jump from the window of a burning building to safety.
Charisma and ‘sales’ techniques come to the fore with persuasion, in order to quickly ‘close the deal’.
Influence, on the other hand, generally requires a greater amount of time (to fluere or flow as the Latin derivative tells us). For example –
A people leader works to bring about a change in team culture
Parents endeavour to instil good manners in their children
An environmentalist endeavours to raise awareness of impact of climate change