Influence with Ethics

A Guest Post from Mark Pastin, President of the Council of Ethical Organizations

To succeed in any business, you have to influence others to support your viewpoint and decisions. Top business leaders are masters of influence. Those who succeed in leading their organizations on a long-term basis influence with ethics. When you influence with ethics, your decisions are respected and, thus, more easily implemented than they are when you rely on force or manipulation. And you do not face a rebound effect when others realize that you have manipulated them.

We look at two tools of ethical influence. These tools will help you get others to agree with you without carrying the penalties associated with less effective, more manipulative approaches.

Up Close and Personal:

Ethical influence works best up close and personal. Our ethical instincts were honed when we needed trust and cooperation to survive in small hunter-gatherer groups. Our emotions of sympathy and empathy helped the group stick together. While our world has changed dramatically, our wiring is still the same. It is often said that many who could drop a bomb on city could not kill a civilian face to face. By the same token, it is harder to ignore the needs of someone close to you than someone who lives thousands of miles away. This is because the core of our ethical sense – our abilities to feel sympathy and empathy – relies on cues in our immediate environment.

This means that if you are trying to influence with ethics, it helps to do so up close and personal. The other party will be more attuned to your needs and you will be more attuned to theirs. Many influence situations that seem hopeless when handled remotely can be resolved up close and personal.

Get Specific:

When we are trying to influence with ethics, we often start out trying to get others to accept our general viewpoint. This often fails since you may be asking someone to give up beliefs to which they have clung for years. But it is often possible to achieve agreement with someone in a specific case even if you would never agree at the level of basic principles. In the Washington, D.C. area, we often see politicians acting contrary to their stated principles when it comes to their own families. A politician who would never support gay right acts differently when one of their children is gay. An advocate of public education sends their own children to private schools.

When you seek to influence with ethics, find the level of agreement you need to move forward. Start with the specific and only move to a more general level if you can’t reach agreement at the level of specifics. If you don’t need to change someone’s principles to move ahead, stick to the specifics.


When you influence with ethics, you decrease the distance between yourself and those you seek to influence. This gives you a basis for continued influence with no price to pay for past instances of influence by manipulation. Learn more about influencing with ethics.

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