Futures Ramblings # 53
Some of you know my son Harry, he used to help us with video editing back when we did that kind of thing. Harry has always been a smart kid, who had quite an advanced vocabulary even as a young child. His first words were somewhat typical of early speakers: Mom, Dad, No, Mine and then the little snark started saying dammit when he dropped his bottle. We immediately blamed our rogue rouge nanny for this; certainly we were not at fault, we were doting model parents who had read every baby and early childhood book published!
Our nanny denied every swearing around Harry, the solution to this mystery came to me one day as I was driving in Chicago where we lived. Another driver cut me off, naturally I delivered a colourful diatribe on his driving skills and overall level of intelligence. You most certainly would have done the same, after all, if we common people don’t stand up and educate others our society will be reduced to the lowest common denominator! Basking in the sense of release and community pride, my gaze fell to the rear view mirror; there he was, my adorable little sponge brain son absorbing it all. That was the moment I realised the power we have to influence other human beings. It was also the moment I was thankful that small children have a harder time pronouncing words with S or F in them.
Every day we influence people and other people influence us; for parents, governments and companies being able to harness that influence is critical to achieving goals. Understanding how to do this is particularly challenging today when pulling out the old chestnut ‘do this because I am the boss’ has little sway. Heck this line rarely works with children once they reach ten, so why would we believe that in this time of building self esteem and confidence we could use it on a young adult co-worker? This my friends, is why having the ability to motivate, direct, persuade and influence people is more necessary today than ever before.
So what do we know about influencing others?
Researchers have done studies on persuasion; one experiment done in 1968 and reported in the Journal of Personality found that people physically stood closer to one another once they learned that they had something in common. In another, researcher F. B. Evans found that people buying insurance were more willing to purchase a policy from a salesperson who was the same age, religion, or even had similar habits – such as smoking. What these studies show is being able to persuade others is reliant on deeply rooted human drives and needs. People want others to like them; therefore, they are influenced by people they like and who are like them.
When it comes to influencing decision making another key factor is reciprocity. If someone has done us a favour, we feel the need to return it. This is precisely why furniture manufacturers bring us food and hang around chewing the fat with designers in the office. We sometimes fool ourselves into believing that these gestures of good will do not influence our decision making, but that would be more than somewhat naïve. In fact, many organisations recognise the sense of obligation is human nature and therefore prohibit their people from accepting gifts, lunches or expensive conferences. My husband works for the Sydney Harbour Federation Trust and as an employee of the federal government he can’t accept a candycane from a supplier at Christmas without fear of losing his job.
In his book Influence author Robert Cialdini writes of the ‘awesome strength’ of our nature to reciprocate when someone does us a favour. “So typical is it for indebtedness to accompany the receipt of such things, that a term like ‘much obliged’ has become a synonym for ‘thank you’ not only in the English language but in others as well”. According to Cialdini there is no human society that does not subscribe to the rule of reciprocation and sense of obligation, it is pervasive in human culture. So I guess you could say resistance is futile and rather than fight this, understand and use it.
Within the office the situation is similar, we gravitate toward people we like and those who think, dress and act the same as we do. The term ‘yes men’ came from this type of behaviour and for obvious reasons it has its downfalls. Particularly if you are an organisation that cares anything about connecting with clients, pushing innovation or basic business evolution. These tendencies can be especially limiting when it goes beyond simple reciprocity of favours, to influential people in the office making it clear that rewards will come to those that help them and retribution will come to those that don’t.
We are all people with complicated emotions and while we should, we do not always base our decisions on logic. The fact is we frequently are not aware of how much we rely on emotions to make decisions. Once this is recognised, you can use it to your advantage and become a more powerful influencer by appealing to a person’s values, self image and sense of belonging. I for instance have commented over the years on how nice Peter Geyer’s hair looked and you can see the personal rewards that has brought.
It often helps to couch requests in a larger purpose vision and express confidence in a person’s ability to do the job. By listening for clues you can determine what motivates another person and appeal to that. For an excellent tutorial on this technique I recommend watching Leave it to Beaver a 1960s American television show, note the behaviour of Eddie Haskel. I watched this show faithfully in my formative years, again you can see the personal rewards it has brought.
Some would not label the behaviour I have described as influence, but might call it office politics. This term is often labelled with negative perceptions, as it is believed to lead to a decrease in job satisfaction, low morale and commitment; and can become a catalyst for employees leaving the organisation. However this is only if you’re on the wrong side of the equation. Empirical research shows that being politically savvy and seeking power actually pays off, this is because there is a correlation between managers’ primary motivations and their success. Some managers need to be liked, others like to achieve targets or goals, others are interested in power. I am motivated by money, so the few people in the organisation that report to me would find that making a small cash contribution towards my son’s school tuition would serve them well.
Power, like office politics gets a bad rap, this is something we should all get over because the experts claim that to be successful and influence other people, you must develop personal power. According to Colin Gautrey, this need not be Machiavellian, nor does it need to be a violation of personal integrity. Gautrey maintains Influence is the outcome of people doing something they would not otherwise do, Power is something about you which motiviates people to be influenced by you and Politics are the behaviours which people use to influence others in a positive or negative way. He believes that by focusing on developing personal power, people will become less dependent on the use of politics to create influence. In other words those that have power don’t need to be political, even though they sometimes are.
Some of the things that can make an individual powerful are:
Position on a particular project
Ability to veto or sign-off proposals
A friendly and fun personality
Qualifications, skills and experience
Good relationships with key people around the organisation
Being very tall and/or attractive (fortunately for me – sometimes ugly and menacing works)
Positive public profile
In a position to provide help and support.
Of course if that is all too hard you could just hire someone to build your influence, I recommend Mekanism in New York. Mekanism, they bill themselves as a production company, but they are really an advertising agency that has been focusing on the Web. The company is known for being quite unconventional, never the less have created spots for a number of established companies like Microsoft, Frito-Lays, and Unilever. Jayson Harris from Mekanism makes the bold guarantee that they can create an online campaign go viral. Their confidence isn’t all cocky luck, for each campaign they leverage social-media tools like Quantcast, Visible Technologies, and Visible Measures. They also tap into a list of influencers to pair the right tone and content to get the proper balance of reach and credibility.
Fast Company magazine is so interested in this they have challenged Mekanism to create a viral marketing experiement whose outcomes will be documented in the magazine’s November issue. This experiment called The Influence Project, is attempting to measure influence on the Web and explore how influence and influencers spread and kill ideas on the Internet. Mekanism has suggested a number of possible site ideas that could be used for the experiment, one a Twittering Business Jesus who responds to companies in distress, another titled f&*k China were passed over. Fast Company settled on something more mainstream, individuals who participate will measure their influence based on how many people click the link to their personal profile. If you participate you will get your photo on the cover of Fast Company so if you’re interested there is still time. While the project hasn’t taken off as quickly as David After Dentist, or Dog Poo girl it has been quite popular in the US with people resorting to bribes and other underhanded means to get others to open their link.
While you may not believe an individual’s personal online influence is any measure of real influence, it is interesting to note the people who made Time Magazine’s list of most influential people. According to the list Lady Gaga, Bill Clinton and Brazil’s leader Luiz Inacia Lula da Silva top the annual list. How does the leader of Brazil, whose behind the drive to end social injustice and inequality, and someone who wears no pants (Lady Gaga – not Bill, although one could argue he has on occasion dropped his) get on the same list? Time says it is because these are the people whose ideas and actions are revolutionising their fields and transforming lives.
This brings me back to the beginning of this piece, you never know who you are going to influence, or how you might do it. I for instance, might influence you with this article and while I may intend it to be taken one way, you may take it another. Just as when twenty years ago while doing my civic duty I influenced my young son. Perhaps it was me who influenced a whole generation of young people to use swear words– as nouns, verbs, adjectives or adverbs, a trait that appears to cross cultural, educational and economic lines.
The moral to the story is quite simple, as with so many things the more you practice your influencing skills the better you become at it. By noticing what floats another’s boat: logic, emotion or relationships you can give yourself a leg up, but be careful relying too much on one of these may blind you to opportunities with another. You need more that one tool on your tool belt. If you practice extending your range in different situations and take note of the responses you get, you can develop your own style of influence and build personal power.
I don’t know about you, but I am going to start right now – If I were to own a dog, the only dog worth owning would be one of those Monopoly dogs – Scottish Terriers I think and of course it would have to have a regal name. People who own those dogs are really smart.
Borden Mark; Gary Vaynerchuk on Influence, Emotion and Being a “Douche Bag”, Fast Company; July 6, 2010
Borden, Mark; Popularity, Ego and Influence – What is the Influence Project?, Fast Company, July 7, 2010
Cialdini, Robert B, Harnessing the Science of Persuasion, The Harvard Business Review, July 1, 2010
Gautrey, Colin, Personal Power and Influence, The Sydney Morning Herald
Hoffman, Greg, The Art of Corporate Influence, The Age, July 12, 2010
Hurley, Robert F, The Decision to Trust, Harvard Business Review,
Nicholson, Nigel, How Hardwired is Human Behaviour, The Harvard Business Review, August 1, 1998
Pfeffer, Jeffrey, Power Play, The Harvard Business Review, August 1, 2010
Lady Gaga, Bill Clinton, Lula Top Time’s Influence List, The Age, April 30, 2010