“Working with Eric was a pleasure. We developed a good rapport and established a level of honesty and trust. I valued his counsel and recommendations. I find Eric to be very competent in a variety of disciplines. He is able to correctly diagnose organizational problems and suggest solutions that are on point. I found Eric to be a professional with the highest levels of honesty, integrity, and ethical behavior. I would not hesitate to engage his services again in the future.”
former Corporate Services Director,
Department of Planning and Development,
City of Seattle
(Kathy is now Director of Planning and Finance for Advocacy and Communications at World Vision.)
“I've worked closely with Eric on developing and presenting the Leadership Eastside community leadership program. He has that rare blend of extensive real-world experience along with a very strong background in theory and research. He moves easily between big picture strategy and the tactical details. Eric brings a superb ability to plan, execute and follow-through, both as a behind-the-scenes planner and as an upfront instructor and facilitator.”
founding board member,
Suppose you are working with someone, negotiating with them to get something you want and they want. Perhaps you are trying to agree on how to set up a new, joint project. Or, you are simply trying to get their input on a decision you get to make.
And, yet, you’re coming up with nothing. Their concerns are all over the map, and when you try to drill down to understand, they get really general and vague.
It may be time to pull back from the substance of the process, the actual facts and details of the deal or decision.
And, consider the possibility that they have underlying needs that are not being met. They don’t want to reveal these needs because they might “lose face.” Or, they might not even understand their own needs in that moment.
But, how do you figure out their needs when they aren’t forthcoming? The answer: You guess. You try to figure out what they really want by making your best guess and seeing what happens. Essentially, trial and error.
OK, but where to start? Here is a list of a few very common needs people have. In most situations, you’ll find that one or more of these needs (or a version of them) is behind their confusing behavior.
1. Influence over others: Being able to have an impact on others
2. Involvement/belonging: Being a significant part of the group or project
3. Fairness/justice: Being treated fairly and seeing others treated that way
4. Safety: Feeling safe from attack and able to speak freely
5. Freedom/autonomy: Having control over what they do and getting to make their own decisions
6. Purpose/meaning: Being connected to a larger purpose, goal or vision, to see their actions as having greater significance
7. Recognition/respect: Being treated with respect by others and recognized for what they contribution
There are many ways you can address these needs in a given situation, but the first step is to understand some underlying need is not being met. Second, guess at what it is and try something to address it. Ask for an opinion. See if they are feeling “dissed.” Providing them with some choice or control.
Figure that out and then you’ll find that you and they can get back to the substance of the conversation.
You’ve got do something! You’ve got to get the boss to change her mind, rally your team, convince a customer, prepare a “silver-bullet” presentation. There’s no time to waste!
Whoa, Hoss! Successful influence is less about doing stuff and more about doing the right stuff. And, the right stuff isn’t usually what comes to mind first.
One thing I’ve noticed about “influence” is that people don’t think much about using it until they hit a wall. They have a setback. As a friend of mine says, they get “spanked.” Now, they’re interested in learning about influence.
When you get spanked, it may due to rushing to action without pausing to reflect on just what the best action might be. If you haven’t weighed at least a few different ideas for how to proceed, chances are you haven’t found the best action yet. The odds are against you.
In US culture, we are biased toward action. Just do it! Get it done! Move, move, MOVE!
A big problem with this approach is that taking the wrong action can actually set you back. Take the wrong step, and you can annoy the person you want to influence or piss off an ally. Unthinking action can make achieving your objective even harder, not easier.
In this moment, when you feel you must act, it may be better to “go slow to go fast.” Pause, think, test ideas. Take the time you need to refine your thinking, define your choices and then pick the best one.
“This is a waste of time.”
“We don’t have enough resources, so there’s no point in trying.”
“They always ask us for our ideas and then never do anything with them.”
These are the words of the cynic. The person who cannot see anything good coming out of your project, program or effort.
They don’t want to invest in something that they think will fail. And, they’ve concluded that your project is going to fail.
In my view, most cynics are made, not born. Cynicism springs from idealism that has been destroyed by failed expectations and disappointments.As I often tell clients, no one enters the workforce in their 20s planning to get by until retirement.
There is a way to help a cynic to recover some of their power and idealism. The trick is to use their complaint to expose an underlying need or interest they want to be addressed.
As the influence leader, you have immense power to help the cynic to recognize that underlying need and acknowledge it yourself. At the root of this is listening. They have got to feel that they’ve been heard. Being heard—even by someone who’s not the “top dog”—can make a difference.
But, it’s not enough just to listen. You must also reframe their complaint into something useful. Look at these responses to the complaints at the top of this post:
“You want to make sure that you are working something that will actually happen.”
“You’d like to see more support for this project.”
“In the future, you want your contributions to be acknowledged.”
Reframing involves converting a negative comment into something neutral or positive. Use it to shift the focus to the future, not the past. Reveal information about the speaker and their needs—not their disappointments or someone else’s shortcomings.
Reframing is an important tool for the influence leader because you can shift the conversation from wherever you sit. You can help move people from a “culture of complaint” to one of progress and performance.
A recent New Yorker article about Ponzi schemes describes another tactic that Bernard Madoff used to dupe investors.
He played hard to get. To get your money invested with Madoff, you had to have a personal connection to someone invested with him: A special introduction to him. Madoff acted reluctant to take on new investors.
Now, as I said before, I am not extolling the virtues of manipulation. What I trying to do is illustrate some principles of influence leadership that can be used for doing good.
In Madoff’s case, investors were not only attracted to his remarkably consistent returns. They wanted to invest with him because it was hard to.
He was more attractive because his fund was (supposedly) closed to new investors. As a rule, people are inclined to want something more when they can’t have it.
So, what can the legitimate influence leader do with this idea? It’s a little tricky, because using scarcity can easily lead to manipulation.
Here are a couple of ideas. One, the scarcest thing you have is your time, especially if you are a manager or executive. Granting time to someone, particularly someone farther down in rank, is a great tool for influencing them. Many folks would be honored to have an “audience” with the boss.
Another idea is to hold off on sharing your thoughts and ideas. Many influential people I know have been reticent and measured in expressing themselves. Others start to wonder what you’re thinking. Sometimes they even ask you directly, which sets the stage perfectly for summing up all you’ve heard and proposing a particular action. This is especially effective if it’s at the end of a meeting.
Finally, scarce or exclusive information tends to be more persuasive. If you know something that’s not widely known, sharing it with a select few others can sway them.
While I don’t condone what Madoff did, I do think we can learn something constructive from his methods. The trick, as always, is to stay clear of manipulation.
You’re in a meeting. You’ve got an objective to, say, get people to move forward on a project idea. Early in the meeting, you ask for people’s opinions on the idea. The group goes around the table, and each person speaks their piece.
Unless everyone’s in favor of going forward, you may have just reduced your chances of success.
Why? Because people’s minds are more open and receptive to different ideas and perspectives when they have not yet publicly stated a position.
Once someone states their position verbally, they get attached to it. They have to defend it. Adhering to their earlier public commitment becomes important.
Of course, people sometimes do change their minds, and they might make a public statement that they’ve had a change of heart. But that doesn’t happen nearly as often as “sticking to the guns.”
That’s because people don’t want to look wishy-washy or to lose face, so they stick to their earlier pronouncements.
This is why the influence leader needs to be careful about asking for public commitments. Don’t ask too early, before you’ve had a chance to make a case, provide facts or share your perspective.
If you ask too early, you’ll have to contend not only with people’s substantive objections to your proposal but also with their need now to look strong and certain.
“[W]e live in two worlds: one characterized by social exchanges and the other characterized by market exchanges. And we apply different norms to these two kinds of relationships. Moreover, introducing market norms in social exchanges…violates social norms and hurts relationships.”
This quote is from Dan Ariely’s book, Predicably Irrational. In the book, he illustrates how we can foul up relationships that are built on friendship and mutual regard by treating them as economic relationships.
Influence leadership involves making legitimate use of social norms, like reciprocity and liking. Take reciprocity, for example. In an earlier blog entry, I suggested that in order to be able to influence others, you need to allow yourself to be influenced as well. This is a kind of reciprocity. There are others of course, like the favors you can get from people because you’ve done them favors in the past.
All of this stays safely in the realm of social norms, as long as no one offers to pay money. You wouldn’t pay your friends to help you move (economic norm), but you would ply them with beer and pizza afterward (social norm). In fact, they expect it.
It would be foolish to try to buy someone’s compliance with a bribe or promise of some kind of economic benefit. It might work, but doing so would permanently convert the relationship (if people aren't too offended) to an economic one—instead of a social one. (Of course, it might even be unethical.)
Once that happens, social norms take a backseat to economic norms and you’ll find that you have to start paying for cooperation you used to get for free.
This is one reason performance reviews are so tough. Bosses and their employees have a hard time at performance review time talking about pay raises and bonuses, because this requires you to “go economic” in a relationship that’s governed primarily by social norms.
Most of the time, the influence leader needs to keep safely in the realm of social norms. One exception is where you can influence someone to do something on the expectation of an economic payoff from someone else, like a promotion from another manager.
Are you really being smart about what you’re dealing with? Have you mapped out the challenges, pitfalls and resources that will help you be successful?
Most folks who try to influence haven’t taken this step.
It’s important to “get smart” about what the challenge is. Who supports you? Who might? Who is resisting? What can be done?
You need to drill down, unpack and unthread the situation. Remember that most interpretations, judgments and conclusions you and others might have about a situation are probably built on some pretty flimsy facts.
Drilling down means separating (1) the actual, observable facts from (2) the interpretations, judgments and conclusions.
It also means discovering where best to focus your energy, understanding the environment you’re working within, the pressures on the person (or people) you’re trying to influence, and becoming aware of the array of choices and options you have for realizing your vision.
This is obviously not something you do in one sitting. It takes time to develop this fine-grained view. Furthermore, you can’t do it all by toiling at your desk, working it out on paper.
You’ll need to do some research. Go out and test some of your assumptions; look for ways to be surprised.
It will sharpen your thinking and increase your chances of success.
Have you ever felt that you absolutely must convince someone of something? That you must do everything in your power to sway them—right now, in this moment? Ever had a time where failure is not an option?
If so, you’re in trouble. Big trouble. Not only are you no longer effective, you’ll find that further pushing will only damage the relationship and set you back.
Very few people will respond well to this kind of desperate appeal. I know they seem to in the movies, but it’s very rare in real life.
It’s like “going all in” in poker when you have a bad hand. You’re betting everything on very bad odds. It’s a sucker’s choice.
Some of the folks I’ve seen push too hard are the ones who had very little influence in the first place. It’s as if they are trying to become influential in one, fell swoop. It doesn’t happen that way!
When you feel that your only option is convincing, it means that there’s more you need to know about the situation, about the person you are trying to influence, what their needs and interests, and how they see you.
When you feel the need to convince, it’s time to pull back and reevaluate. Listen carefully to the messages you are receiving from the person or people you’re trying to convince. Look for the meaning underneath their words. Review what you know. Debrief with a trusted advisor.
And, most important of all, come up with a list of multiple approaches or tactics you can try. The more ideas you have, the less likely you’ll be to “bet the ranch” on forcing one to work.
Is being an influence leader only about getting other people to do things?
The influence leader is a partner with other people. You need to be open and accepting of influence from other people. You must allow yourself to be moved.
Some of the most desperate and isolated folks I’ve encountered in organizations are those who refuse to be moved. They think of themselves like a rock from that Simon and Garfunkel song.
They think that being influenced is a sign of weakness. Actually, it’s quite the opposite. They are actually surrendering their power and will likely find themselves ostracized. This is a losing strategy for the influence leader.
There is a good tactical reason to be influenced: it shows folks that you are interested in a reciprocal relationship. You’re ready to go along—where it makes sense. (Remember that influence is about leading people to something they need or want. It’s not manipulation, blind following or horse-trading.) You are a part of the team, not someone who thinks you have the only answers.
What it comes down to is this: People are more likely to be influenced by people they can influence. In other words, if you show yourself to be “influence-able,” your own influence will increase.
So, look for ways to opportunities to be influenced and let people know. It’ll increase—not decrease—your influence with others.
Do you think of the people around you as automatons or volunteers?
One of the principles of influence leadership is that no one is really in-charge. That is, no one can make anyone do anything without their cooperation.
If no one is indeed in charge, the corollary principle is that everyone is a volunteer. Everyone needs to be brought to do the work of the organization as a willing partner—someone who accepts the larger purpose of the organization and their role within it.
It has to make sense to them and be “worth it.”
As an influence leader, one of your tasks is to provide to people with the information and perspective they need to enable them to join with you as a willing partner. What would entice a volunteer to do what you ask?
This is a lot different than expecting people to do something only “because you said so” or “it’s their job.” That’s old school command-and-control thinking—not something the influence leader can use.
I got this idea that “everyone is a volunteer” from a fellow member of a non-profit board of directors. On a non-profit board, of course, we are actually all are volunteers. But, my colleague told me he also thinks of people in his company as volunteers—an intriguing idea.