Are Influence and Persuasion Basically the Same Thing?
Influence and persuasion are often thought of as being pretty much the same thing. Both of these terms are used to convey the measure by which we are able to get people to do things or convince other people of something to which they do not already agree. But in reality, influence and persuasion, though both involved in moving other people to action or a new position of belief, are not really even close to being the same thing.
According to the Dictionary on my Mac, the definition of influence is: "the capacity to have an effect on the character, development, or behavior of someone or something, or the effect itself" - and the definition of persuade is: "cause (someone) to do something through reasoning or argument". The difference between influence and persuasion is something a top persuader should fundamentally understand.
As I see it, the act or effectiveness of persuasion is impacted by our influence (or lack thereof), but not completely dependent upon it. To see how they relate to one another and affect our effectiveness in convincing others, let's break them up a little bit and see what happens.
First, let's consider that there are two basic conditions (for the sake of simplicity) of our state of influence with another person - 1. We have influence...2. We do not have influence. (In reality we are somewhere between complete influence and zero influence at any given time.) Second, let's take the act of persuading another person and break it into two basic approaches - 1. We can tell a person what we know...2. We can ask a person questions which can lead them to their own understanding of what we know.
Now we can match up the different combinations of these conditions and see how they affect convincing another person. After looking at the task of convincing other people this way, perhaps you can understand why so many attempts are destined to fail - and conversely it may become more apparent what approach can give you higher likelihood of success in your efforts to convince others or gain their compliance.
Scenario 1. - If we do not have influence with someone - and we tell them "what we know" our result is likely to be rejection of our information.
Scenario 2. - If we have influence with someone - and we tell them "what we know" our result is more likely to be acceptance of all or at least part of our information.
Scenario 3. - If we have influence with someone - and we ask them questions that lead them to a conclusion the same as "what we know" the result is they now possess the same or very similar knowledge as we do.
Scenario 4. - If we do not have influence with someone - and we ask them questions that lead them to a conclusion the same as "what we know" the result is they now possess the same or very similar knowledge as we do.
In looking at these scenarios, does it make sense to engage in a questioning process to help others learn "what we know" for their self?
I believe this approach has a number of advantages in building win/win outcomes for people - including the possibility that if we are wrong about "what we know" it can be more easily discovered using this approach. We do want to know when we are wrong don't we? I mean, who wants to continue spreading misinformation, or faulty solutions to problems etc if we discover new and better information and solutions?
The problem for vast numbers of people is the unrealistic assumption that we have influence with another person. The days of possessing influence by holding a title, working for a particular company, or even dressing a certain way are pretty much gone. Why? Because the componenents of influence have been so thoroughly abused by sophists and other unethical people to the point where even the "automatic" indicators of influence can no longer be trusted.
Building trust and influence is as important today as ever - but we will generate more win/win outcomes with greater efficiency if we reduce our reliance on it. Persuasion can generate the results we seek more efficiently by using a process whereby others discover for their self the knowledge of how a new idea or product can help them solve their problems.