This week, I am running a series of posts on influence as a follow up to a session on influence at HRevolution 2010.
It’s not motivation, it’s not polite, and it’s not pretty.
Influence means getting someone who is already engaged in doing something to follow you instead, and assumes that the person is already motivated to act.
Influence means imposing your will.
And while it’s always nice not to have to “impose” your will, but rather suggest it and have it accepted—and I absolutely recommend that you start with this approach, by the way—if you’re really serious about influencing someone’s behavior, you had better have something more significant up your sleeve than your best “pretty please with sugar on top.”
Now sometimes, you’ll be able to compel others’ behavior through force. But usually, you won’t. And even when you do, you’ll often have good reason not to use it. Which I’ll talk more about on Thursday. But right now, let’s talk about the gritty.
Influence takes advantage of predictable glitches in the human psyche. Not sometimes, not usually, not “when necessary.” Always.
No less a person than George Washington, leading an effort no less noble than the creation of the United States of America and the emancipation of a continent from tyrannical rule, took advantage of these glitches to sell his case. He never left the fate of America to people’s willingness to fall on the sword for some ideal. He employed the gritty and made sure people could not say no to him. So I hope you did yesterday’s homework on reconciling respect and influence, because this is where we separate the successful pragmatists from the struggling idealists.
Here’s a crash course on the gritty of influence:
- People are obedient. Clear, authoritative calls to action get followed more often than not, even when those directions clearly conflict with the follower’s moral code. (Milgrim)
- Rewards alone are insufficient to change behavior. Rewarded behavior is repeated until the rewards go away. To create change, rewards must be coupled with mildly negative feedback (for non-compliance). (Skinner)
- Associations are powerful things. If idealism has a place in the world of influence, it’s in creating an association in someone’s mind between the behavior you want them to engage in and an aspirational belief. (Pavlov)
- People are rationalized, not rational. Our brains are glitchy. One glaring glitch: we think we’re Spock-like even when we’re out-of-our-gourds emotional. (Ariely)
- Acceptance by others is more important than being right. Peer pressure smothers truth just as sure as rock smashes scissors or scissors cuts paper. (Asch).
- People overestimate their own abilities. By a lot. Which means telling someone the truth about his/her abilities is tantamount to providing negative feedback just for listening to you. Now if you’re standing next to someone who flatters them, guess what? Your negative feedback + his/her positive feedback = you lose! (Dunning-Kruger)
There are other glitches, too, such as:
- People like to root for the underdog, but only after the underdog appears to have a shot at winning.
- Few things unite a group like a common enemy.
- Fear abatement is often a stronger desire than pleasure seeking.
- People will rationalize two conflicting beliefs to make them seem congruent… and will bite your head off if you’re not careful about how you call them on their hypocrisy.
Bottom line: no matter how noble your cause, you had better utilize the gritty when planning your tactics. Otherwise, your noble cause is D.O.A.
If you did yesterday’s homework and reconciled the ideals of influence and respect, you won’t feel much shock about how “manipulative” this all seems. If you blew off my post yesterday, you’ve probably got your knickers in a wad right about now.
Either way, Thursday’s lesson will be about how to implement these tactics in an environment where you have no formal power—i.e., influencing peers or superiors—in a way that keeps you in compliance with the Moral Imperative to do good.
Jason Seiden is CEO of Ajax Workforce Marketing. Ajax amplifies brands by aligning employees' online messaging.