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How to Influence Anyone About Anything

(Welcome to our fourth year and 37th consecutive monthly article on effective managing and consulting.)

The best way to influence anyone else is by looking at three simple issues:

  1. What’s in it for them?
  2. How can I provide what’s in it for them and still obtain what I need?
  3. How to I demonstrate that?

The people in baggage claim isn’t about to act any faster or with any more ingenuity to find your lost luggage if you scream at them. (And, in fact, they may arrange never to find your luggage.) But they will become quite involved if you tell them that you need their advice on how you can help them best track it down, and that you’ve heard their airline is the best in the business at helping in this situation.

The baggage clerk isn’t receiving anything tangible from you. But what’s in it for the clerk is someone offering to help, someone who’s not threatening and swearing, and someone who compliments their organization.

I’ve avoided two traffic tickets by immediately telling the officer as he came to my window that I was wrong, I should have known better, and handing him my license, registration, and insurance card immediately. Both officers said, “Well, you’re exactly right, I can see that you’re not impaired or reckless, so just be careful, okay?” The officers didn’t get a bribe nor someone threatening to call their boss, the chief of police. They got a contrite motorist who was polite and forthright, and they didn’t have to issue a ticket, spend still more time in traffic court, or run the risk of some attorney fighting the case.

  1. What’s in it for them? People take the initiative to change (motivation instead of mere movement) if their rational self-interest is served. That self-interest may be tangible improvement, avoidance of risk or an unpleasant situation, recognition of their skills and achievements, inclusion, increased latitude of action, and a myriad of other factors. Put yourself in their shoes, whether prospects, bosses, subordinates, peers, family members, or strangers. Don’t start a sentence with, “What I need,” but rather with, “You may be interested in.”
  2. How can I provide what’s in it for them and still obtain what I need? Be willing to sacrifice small desires in order to safeguard your key “musts.” If I need someone to help set up a room before my arrival, I may offer to share credit for the workshop with them, publicly thank them, and will gladly get them the materials to be distributed a week earlier than I otherwise would have. But they must have the room set up a full hour before the workshop starts, and that’s not negotiable. Provide options: You can set up the room the night prior, or at least an hour before start time, and you can use any of three different configurations. Make it as flexible as possible while still meeting your “musts.”
  3. How do I demonstrate that? Be open. Be candid. Don’t trick someone and don’t have lame excuses (which those police officers have heard a zillion times). Ask the other person for their advice or if they have a better suggestion (which they just might). Don’t be demanding and, above all, be patient, which might seem counterintuitive, but which says to the other person, “This isn’t life or death, and I’m not desperate.”Threats of force and retribution are usually hollow and can generate pyrrhic victories (some waiters really will spit in your drink if you’re rude about their service-who wins that one?). Put yourself in the other person’s shoes and ask how you would be influenced.
  4. I once actually persuaded the flight crew of a United Airlines plane delayed by storms for four hours to reverse their decision not to fly to Providence at two in the morning, since it was easier for them to go home. They listened to me, told everyone to sit tight, had the luggage reloaded, and off we went. People were astounded. I simply reminded the crew that they would have almost the entire next day off if they went to Providence at that hour, but they’d be flying bleary-eyed in a few hours if they stayed in Chicago.