Having the ability to influence is extremely beneficial in leadership, negotiations, achieving goals and developing relationships. The skills to deliberately influence with precision and speed will bring great benefits to you both professionally and personally. However, influencing without paying due diligence to your ethics and morals can be extremely dangerous. We stress that the skills and tools we provide at Applied Influence Group should always be used in an ethically compliant manner, as they can easily be used to manipulate the other party.

In our methodology we look at the internal factors that drive the thoughts, feelings and actions of an individual and show that person how we can either satisfy a desire or remove a fear that they have. We will then frame our influence message using external influence factors that we can all be persuaded by, such as liking or reciprocation. If consideration has not been given to the ethical nature of what you are doing when undertaking this process, then it could lead to gross consequences.

For example, let me refer you back to the Nuremberg War Criminal trials following World War Two. The justifications given for acts of genocide by the accused, frequently were based on obedience, and a common explanation for their acts was that they were just following the orders of their superiors. Professor Robert Cialdini argues that the main external influence factor present in that case would be authority. The reasoning behind the authority factor is that an individual is more likely to follow orders, or be influenced by a system they have a belief in and have committed to. This creates automatic, programmed obedience and in extreme forms (such as the war crimes committed in Nazi Germany) this adherence to authority, is what allows extremist organisations to recruit and radicalise people.

Dina Gerdman’s article on ‘Why Ethical People Become Unethical Negotiators’ is an interesting read and if you are regularly involved in negotiations I encourage you to give it a few minutes of your time. It looks at the factors that lead people to act in an unethical manner when participating in negotiation despite entering into it with no intentions on deliberately duping the other side. What the article doesn’t do though, is provide advice on how to avoid getting dragged into that unethical behaviour. So here are three checks and balances you can put in place to help avoid acting in an unethical manner.

1. Controlling Emotions: In the military, it was imperative for us to remain aware of our objective and manage our emotions in a high stress environment dealing with the highest of stakes; people’s lives. Believe it or not, the same considerations and techniques we used are equally applicable when it comes to negotiations. Most people overestimate their ability to regulate their own emotions and often end up in situations thinking ‘I wish I hadn’t have said…’ or 'I don’t know why I didn’t do…’. The emotional load which results from a lack of self-management will reduce our ability to think rationally and can lead us to unethical practices. These emotional hijackings, as Daniel Goleman calls them, are due to the amygdala part of the brain, flooding the neo-cortex with chemicals, blanking out the ability to think properly, which can contribute to ethical blind spots occurring. There are several emotional management techniques you can employ once you have recognised that you are getting emotionally hijacked, such as distraction methods, perspective altering and breathing techniques - taking time to find the right ones that work for you is extremely beneficial.

2. Questioning Yourself: To provide us with guidance about what could and could not be done in terms of influencing people in the military, we had the international, British and Military law, UK Policy and the local Commander’s direction to ensure that what we were doing was of an ethically sound nature. But even with us having all of that, we frequently found grey areas for which there were no answers to. When faced with these grey areas we would ask ourselves a series of questions to check whether what we were planning was of an ethically sound nature. These questions were based around the positive and negative, short and long-term consequences for us and the affected party, that could occur through the actions we were planning to take. We would assess what the extent and likelihood was of those consequences occurring and then make a judgement call based on that analysis of whether to go ahead with our plan.

3. Mutually Beneficial Outcome? This check was always done to ensure that our influence efforts were not manipulative. We would look to identify mutually beneficial outcomes to all affected parties through our actions. If dealing with a one on one situation or negotiation, we would spend time to find out what drove that individual’s behaviour and so we would look to shape our offering around what they desire or remove something they fear. Although it might be contested by many reading this article, we didn’t consider money to be a true driver. We viewed it as a gateway that satisfies something deeper. For example, an individual might seek money for power, whereas another may want it for tranquility and peace of mind. We would always establish what that greater need was and look to try and frame our influence message around that. If you think in this way, you may offer something the recipient hadn’t even realised they wanted, which can facilitate a much stronger relationship as you have taken the time to understand and consider their perspective.

It is important to make the correct considerations to ensure that your influencing efforts are of an ethically sound nature. If they’re not, you might get a short-term win, but in doing so, long-term relationships, your reputation and future business are being put at great risk. Ensure that you are acting in an ethically sound nature in the way you influence to protect your future.