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Consider these words:

Smart, sick, facetious, terrific, devious, and bad.

Each one has both a positive and negative use. 

For example, we may use the word smart to describe a high intelligence or a great-looking suit.  Or, when you shut your finger in the door, it will hurt or will smart.

Manipulation is also a work with both a good and bad meaning.


The difference, however, is that the meaning of the word doesn’t change; the resulting action changes.

Manipulation is defined as the exercise of influence over others.

Manipulation – Good

In the business world, manipulation is often referred to as a nudge

We all know that people are not fully rational.  Our physical or emotional environments influence people’s choices and behavior.  The arena of charity fundraising is a classic example of playing with our heartstrings to get us to donate more money than we might typically consider.  They use photos and graphic stories to “nudge” us to increase our giving.

Business leaders and entrepreneurs must apply nudges to get our customers to buy our products and services.  We need to use well-written ads, great graphics, and exceptional personal salesmanship to cause our potential buyers to select us over everyone else.

Manipulation – Bad

The bad side of nudging is easily apparent. 

If we can perfect the art of getting someone to pick us over our competition, why couldn’t we get them to do anything else we want them to do?

Nudges get people to invest money in things they usually would not invest in, do unnatural things for someone they are romantically involved with, and make business decisions that, in retrospect, are illogical.  As a result, our newsfeeds are full of stories that sound ridiculous after the fact but were soundly driven by nudges at the time.

And manipulations just get worse. 

They grow from mere nudges to outlandish flattery, guilt trips, and threats.  The definition of this type of manipulation includes domination and victimization.  All are employed to get what is desired by the person doing the nudging.

Managing Manipulation

Manipulation in some form occurs all the time. 

Getting a three-year-old to eat brussels sprouts requires manipulation.  Likewise, getting more “likes” involves manipulation.  And companies with bigger marketing budgets can manipulate more and better.

For business leaders, there is a right way to manipulate.  Here are three principles to follow.

  1. Relevance – don’t just sell a product or service. Make sure it comes with honest value as well.
  2. Omnipresence – know your market and who will truly need and benefit from what you sell.
  3. Intimacy – we are problem solvers, and to solve a problem means we need to know our audience well enough to understand their issues.

The Bible

The Bible has much to say about manipulation.  

Through examples, principles, and direct commands, Scripture warns us against manipulating others and against allowing ourselves to be manipulated.

At its core, manipulation is a type of lying.  

When someone speaks falsely for the purpose of deception, they are being manipulative because to deceive is to nudge someone into thinking or behaving a certain way.  So all of the Bible’s prohibitions against lying can be applied to manipulation – and lying is a dreadful sin.

Ephesians 4:25 says,

“Each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body.”

Just as we are not to manipulate others, we must protect ourselves against being manipulated.  Matthew 10:16  says,

“Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” 

This interprets as “shrewd as snakes”—don’t be taken advantage of; and “innocent as doves”—don’t manipulate others.

For Christian believers, who are business owners and entrepreneurs, nudging people to buy their products and become users of their services is a delicate balance –  a balance only found in prayer and reading Scripture.

Business success requires us to nudge potential customers who will benefit from associating with our company to use us.  We benefit from the business; they benefit from our products.

But we must always pay attention to not crossing the line and manipulating people into decisions they don’t intend to make.  For business leaders and entrepreneurs, that line is revealed by the Bible.