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The Ten Laws of Influence

Reviewing Laws


Unethical influence may succeed--but always at a cost.

“Remember that all through history, there have been tyrants and murderers, and for a time, they seem invincible.  But in the end, they always fall.  Always.”

                                                                                                                      —Mahatma Gandhi



Not all influence attempts are ethical.  Some people do lie, cheat, and steal.  They try to take advantage of others through threats or intimidation.  They try to manipulate others so the people being influenced are duped into believing something that is not true.  Clearly, unethical influence like cheating can succeed, at least in the short term, but there is always a cost.  Fraudster Bernie Madoff conned millions out of unwary investors--but he now sits in a prison cell.  


An expedient way of influencing for unscrupulous and morally bankrupt people is to impose their will by using unethical means of influence—avoiding, manipulating, intimidating, and threatening.  They may feel they don’t have time to influence using ethical techniques, or they may not want to risk failure.  So they take unethical shortcuts:

  • Avoiding.  Avoiding responsibility by blaming others for problems they caused or by finding someone else to make a difficult decision; avoiding conflict by evading issues or creating false harmony to disguise discord; or by being passive-aggressive (appearing to agree when in fact they don’t).


  • Manipulating.  Conning others; perpetrating hoaxes or baseless conspiracy theories; lying or covering up the truth; using false flattery; deceiving others into believing something the influencer knows is false.


  • Intimidating.  Dominating or controlling others; using superior size, volume, energy, or forcefulness to impose one’s will on others; to make others timid or fearful; to be overbearing, bullying, or taunting.


  • Threatening.  Expressing or implying that failure to comply will result in harm, injury, damage, or even death.


These means of influencing others are dishonest, but, without question, they succeed from time to time.  Often, as Gandhi indicated, the unscrupulous will prevail and may seem invincible.  But in the end, those who are imposed upon or lied to or otherwise deceived will rebel against the manipulators and either refuse to cooperate with or support them further or may actively work to bring them down.

Unethical influence tactics are only temporarily successful in the majority of cases.


Why?  Because unethical influencers burn too many bridges.  They outstay their welcome.  They lose the trust of those they’ve conned and create distrust and distance between themselves and those they’ve sought to deceive or control. 

Without question, their tenures at the top can be lengthy enough to con people out of millions of dollars (e.g., Bernie Madoff) or rule countries for many years (e.g., Hitler, Mao, Stalin, Idi Amin, Qaddafi, Hussein), but in the end, as Gandhi says, they always fall, and their falls can be climactic. 

We have all been lied to at some point in our lives by someone we trusted.  We’ve been deceived by dishonest salespeople or con artists trying to trick us into revealing confidential information over the phone or through email.  Deception abounds.  But it is rarely triumphant in the end.  We lose trust when we’ve been lied to.  We grow wary when we perceive that a con artist is attempting to defraud us.  We tire of politicians who lie with every breath and try to create false narratives against their opponents.

That’s the cost of using unethical influence tactics.  In the end, they cost you friendships, trust, credibility, reputation, and the ability to influence others effectively.

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