Influence and persuasion are among the most complex endeavors another person can undertake, and I’ve seen otherwise highly intelligent people fail miserably in this discipline, leading to detrimental results for themselves and their projects.
Conversely – I’ve seen people of mediocre intelligence achieve outsized results based almost entirely on their ability to influence and persuade others.
When it comes to understanding this field, there are a lot of good books on the market detailing the art and science of persuasion – some better than others.
One of the best – and definitely most touted ones – is Cialdini’s Influence which – with its six + one principles – is considered a classic for a reason, Strong in both theory and applicability, this is a good place to start for anyone looking to improve how well they deal with people.
No matter your profession you would do yourself a favor to familiarize yourself with how Liking, Reciprocity, Authority, Scarcity, Consistency, Social Proof and Unity affects others’ (and your own) behavior. There is hardly an interaction between two people, where – if you analyze it in detail – one or more of the factors mentioned above don’t play a role. For someone who is an influence professional – a marketer, a salesperson, a lawyer, psychologist, banker, project manager to name a few – understanding (and consistently applying) these principles can accelerate your career more than any other skill by a wide margin.
This sentiment is echoed by Lee Iacocca (Of Ford and later Chrysler fame) in his brilliant 1984 autobiography where he says the following about taking psychology courses in school and applying them in the business world:
“I’m not being facetious when I say that these were probably the most valuable courses of my college career… I’ve applied more of these courses in dealing with the nuts I’ve met in the corporate world than all the engineering courses in dealing with the nuts (and bolts) of automobiles” (Iacocca – 1984, Random House)
The point held true then and it holds true now – figure out what makes other people tick and you’re way ahead of the curve.
What I see when I look online however – whether I go on Instagram, LinkedIn or Amazon – is that everyone seems to read the same books.
This is not surprising because as I’m sure you know, we all like to follow the herd.
But what this means is that there are a lot of very good, very undiscovered books waiting to be read.
One of those books is Nick Kolenda’s Methods of Persuasion.
Written in 2013, this book is nothing short of a masterpiece, and has influenced my thinking and behavior around how to human behavior generally and the field of influence specifically more than most other books in this field. In the following I will outline three of the my main takeaways from the book as well as how and when I’ve applied them over the years.
Takeaway no. 1: Any persuasion situation – regardless of the size, scope and degree – can be divided into three phases
More specifically, what I learned from reading Methods is that any persuasion situation – regardless of the size, scope and degree – can be divided into the following three phases:
- During request
- Post request
Where most people go wrong is that they focus only on the request itself – the wording, the intonation and – if they’re smart – the setting. Very few people make an effort to prepare the request before they make it. This limits their effectiveness severely, because what we do before we make our request matters as much (and sometimes more) than the request itself.
What I mean when I say that is that in order to be effective in negotiations, job interviews, sales, or simply in convincing others that our ideas are worth their time and effort, we need to take our time to set the request up right.
When it comes to what we do pre-request, there are three factors we can incorporate into our dialogue leading up to our request to give ourselves the best chance of success, namely:
- Schemas (which means in effect invoking a certain structure or framework of preconceived ideas, such as e.g. Burning Platform -> Jump in the water or Burn -> Change or die)
- Priming (which in this context means incorporating certain words or phrases into our conversation that relates favorably to what we’re about to ask)
- Convey high (believable) expectations (naturally we don’t want to compromise our integrity, and lower our counterpart’s trust in us, by presenting something as unrealistically positive)
These three concepts applied together can be an extremely potent cocktail.
One of a myriad ways you can apply this is when you’re giving a presentation or running a workshop.
Personally I’ve found it extremely useful to think about what kind of schema will be most useful in conveying the message that I’m communicating, as well as taking care to prime the participants before I get to the meat of the presentation.
For instance, let’s say I want to get the message across that open and inquisitive communication leads to more trust, better results and more quality and enjoyment in the interaction for everyone involved. What I want to do then, is make sure that the pictures and wordings in my presentation support that overall message.
This might seem so banal to you, that you find it insulting to your intelligence.
Because the amount of times people get this wrong is alarming, and when you unconsciously invoke the wrong schemas or fail to prime people for what’s coming, then you’re bound to garner considerable resistance. In fact, I’d wager that a good chunk of the resistance to change that organizations face today, is down to incorrect, incoherent or ineffective use of schemas and priming.
Which leads us to conveying high (believable) expectations.
This one is on the surface more straightforward, but somehow more misunderstood.
Conveying high expectations is not about mindlessly creating enthusiasm like Steve Ballmer shouting DEVELOPERS, DEVELOPERS, DEVELOPERS!
What it is about however, is making sure that your audience understands exactly why what you’re about to tell them will be beneficial to them, and why they should have high expectations for what you’re about to present.
The key here is to understand your audience at a sufficiently deep level to make sure that you know what makes them tick, and that you can fulfill the high expectations that you set. Another hack here, that I’ve found to dial this effect up even further, is that if you can frame it in a way that your audience is part of the reason why you have high expectations for the day (as in “with participants like you, this should make for one hell of an afternoon”), then that is more often than not going to become a self-fulfilling prophecy, meaning that you audience will subconsciously aim to fulfill those expectations.
There is much more to this book, and the lessons in it, than what I’ve detailed above, but in the interest of brevity that’ll be the subject of a later post.
For now and until next time