I write a lot about persuasion and influence. I often caveat my writings by acknowledging that I’m not the one who’s done the research. There are some great research professionals in the field of persuasion and influence who have done that hard work.
What I have learned to do well is apply all of that in a practical and repeatable way that can help you both successfully influence in the here and continuously expand your influencing power.
Before the step by step approach I use, here’s the foundational science the approach is based upon.
A Science-Based Foundation
One of the best scientifically validated research on persuasion has come from one of the leading industry experts, Dr. Robert Cialdini. In his work, he highlights six things that make you more persuasive. All of them are important, but two stand out as part of an interesting persuasion value chain (for lack of a better term) – the principles of “liking” and “consistency.”
In short, the liking principle says that people are more likely to be persuaded by people they like. Liking someone is usually the result of perceiving that you share common ground with them (or that you are like them in some way) and are easy to work with.
The consistency principle says that people want to be consistent with their commitments. It is more effective to start with small commitments compared with big ones because it is simply easier and less risky to get onboard with something small than something big.
There is also some science about something many of us know about intuitively – confirmation bias – which is simply our tendency to rule out any information that doesn’t support what we already think. As it relates to people, if you are liked or are viewed as competent and effective, we tend to only allow data in that supports that view.
So how do these fit together into an effective influencing formula?
The Step By Step Approach
This is where things get interesting on a very practical and do-able level. The following three steps show how you can use the science together to build your influencing power.
Step 1: Find something small and easy to influence.
Despite many of our desires to try to make a big value impact quickly through large scale initiatives that require lots of influencing, the science actually tells us to resist this temptation.
Here’s why. There’s a very high likelihood that you will successfully persuade people on small and easy things since what you are trying to influencing them on isn’t very significant and is of low risk to them. Because you will probably be able to do that successfully, the people you work with will like you just a little more than when you started because, at the very least, you’ll share the common ground of something you got done together. This lets you move onto step two.
Step 2: Build a bank of small and easy influencing successes.
This will help you start to solidify with people that you are easy to work with – and therefore likeable – and can move things along – and therefore credible. This allows you to start to build positive confirmation bias – meaning people now come in predisposed to perceive their influencing interactions with you positively.
Step 3: Take on the bigger, higher impact, but often gnarly stuff
To this point, you’ve stayed away from any big, hard stuff that could interfere with likeability and positive confirmation bias. But now you have developed the required influencing foundation to let you do those things successfully. And people will now let you do it whereas they wouldn’t have before. Using the science has now allowed you to be influential on a bigger level.
A Real-Life Example
In one of my leadership roles years ago, I had applied steps one and two over the course of a good number of months. Then something interesting happened. I was tapped on the shoulder by my boss to be one of three selected leaders to take on driving a company-wide transformation.
The transformation was wrought with all sorts of challenging influencing situations, doing away with sacred cows, putting elephants on the table (and any other bad buzzword expressions I can come up with that are euphemisms for “having to do really hard stuff to get people to think and act differently”).
Had I tried to have taken on this initiative without steps one and two, I would have failed miserably. But because I had been patient and started with small and easy wins, which in turn created a sense of shared common ground and “liking” with many employees at various levels across the organization, which in turn gave me incredibly high positive confirmation bias, I could now push on people in a way that they never would have given me permission to do before. And the transformation influencing efforts required just that.
To this day, it has been one of the most successful transformations I’ve been part of leading and one that I look back on to keep me in check whenever I’m tempted to “go big” right from the start.
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