Influencers from Around the World – How Executives Can Learn Influence

This month’s
Influencers from Around the World guest post comes by way of my good friend
Sean Patrick. Through the power of the internet, he sent it to me all the way
from Ireland in just milliseconds. Sean started a his own sales training
company, Sales Training Evaluation, and spends time in various parts of Europe training salespeople and
executives. Sean was in the U.S. several years ago to attend the Principles of
Persuasion workshop and there’s a good chance he’ll be here again in late
summer or early fall. If you don’t get to meet him while he’s here you can always
“meet” him on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.
Executives Can Learn Influence
How can executives acquire meaningful persuasion
skills so they can influence outside their power brokerage?  As people like myself know all too well,
skill transfer is one of the toughest tasks that can be placed upon a learning
and development executive.  Natural
persuaders just like successful sales people who adhere to no formal sales
process, struggle to share insights into their behaviors.  They will tell you that they “just do it.”  It just flows.  Words can’t describe the cognitive processes,
emotions and beliefs that form specific actions to take place at specific
intervals during the influence process. So imagine you’re the boss of a very
large department and you need to come up with a plan to motivate more
production out of your staff.  In today’s
corporate world, working environments are highly collaborative as well as
individualistic, where multi stakeholder partnerships exist. It’s these
environments in which the skills of influence rule over old school
According to Dr. Robert Cialdini, today’s
executives who lack the superior communication skills of the “naturals” can
turn to science in place of sourcing the very same skills that win deals, gain
compliance and get employees to willfully change.  Executives can gain consensus and win
concessions by mastering simple basic principles that can be easily learned and
applied in a relatively short period of time.
Here are a few simple ways where influence can be
applied in everyday corporate environments:
1. Liking Informal conversations during the
workday create an ideal opportunity to discover common areas of interest,
whether it’s a sports team, hobby, or watching “Mad Men.” The important thing
is to establish the commonality early because it creates a sense of goodwill
and trustworthiness in every subsequent encounter. It’s much easier to build
support for projects when the people you’re trying to persuade are already
bonded with you.  Managers, who praise
members of their staff where relationships have been impaired, begin to
radically turn around those relationships through the simple act of
Researchers at the University of North Carolina
writing in the Journal of Experimental
Social Psychology,
found that men acted more favorably for an individual
who flattered them even if the compliments were untrue. And in their book Interpersonal Attraction
(Addison-Wesley, 1978), Ellen Berscheid and Elaine Hatfield Walster presented
experimental data showing that positive remarks about another person’s traits,
attitude, or performance reliably generates liking in return, as well as
willing compliance.
2. Reciprocity Line managers who share staff and
resources with their peers who are fast approaching deadlines are more likely
to receive favors and help when they need it in the future. Odds will improve
even more if you say, when your colleague thanks you for the assistance,
something like, “Sure, glad to help. I know how important it is for me to count
on your help when I need it.” 
Gift giving is one of the cruder applications of
the rule of reciprocity. In its more sophisticated uses, it promises a genuine
first-mover advantage on any manager who is trying to foster positive attitudes
and productive personal relationships in the office
3. Social Proof According to one of Dr. Cialdini’s
research pieces, a group of researchers went door-to-door in Columbia, S.C.,
soliciting donations for a charity campaign and displaying a list of neighborhood
residents who had already donated to the cause. The researchers found that the
longer the donor list was, the more likely those solicited would be to donate
as well.  The people being solicited
became the subject to the power of peer pressure once they saw the names of all
their neighbors on the list.
4. Consistency People need not only to like you but
also to feel committed to what you want them to do. Good turns are one reliable
way to make people feel obligated to you. Another is to win a public commitment
from them.  Israeli researchers writing
in 1983 in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin recounted how they
asked half the residents of a large apartment complex to sign a petition
favoring the establishment of a recreation center for the handicapped. The
cause was good and the request was small, so almost everyone who was asked
agreed to sign. Two weeks later, on National Collection Day for the
Handicapped, all residents of the complex were approached at home and asked to
give to the cause. A little more than half of those who were not asked to sign
the petition made a contribution. But an astounding 92% of those who did sign
donated money. The residents of the apartment complex felt obligated to live up
to their commitments because those commitments were active, public, and
5. Authority The principle of authority asks us to
believe in the advice dispensed by experts. Since there’s good reason to take
heed to expert advice, executives should take pains to ensure that they
establish their own expertise before they attempt to exert influence.
Surprisingly often, people mistakenly assume that others recognize and
appreciate their experience. The task for managers who want to establish their
claims to expertise is somewhat more difficult. They can’t simply nail their
diplomas to the wall and wait for everyone to notice. A little subtlety is
called for.
Through liking and similarity, they can also
provide an opportunity to establish expertise. Perhaps telling an anecdote
about successfully solving a problem similar to the one that’s on the agenda at
the next meeting or maybe a recreational dinner is the time to describe years
spent mastering a complex discipline, as part of the ordinary give-and-take of
6. Scarcity Study after study shows that items and
opportunities are seen to be more valuable as they become less available.
That’s a tremendously useful piece of information for managers.  Managers can learn from retailers how to
frame their offers not in terms of what people stand to gain but in terms of
what they stand to lose if they don’t act on the information.  According to a 1994 study in the journal Organizational Behavior and Human Decision
, potential losses figure far more heavily in managers’ decision-making
rather than potential gains. In framing their offers, salespeople and
executives should also remember that exclusive information is more persuasive
than widely available data.
The persuasive power of exclusivity can be
harnessed by any manager who comes into possession of information that’s not
widely available and that supports an idea or initiative he or she is aligned
to.  The next time that kind of
information crosses your path, gather your key stakeholders.  The information itself may seem dull, but
exclusivity will give it a special appeal. Push it out to those who need to
buy-in and inform them saying, “You just got this report today. It won’t be
distributed until next week, but I want to give you an early look at what it
shows.” Then notice the rise in interest.
Over to you
If you manage people in your job, how can you take
these examples of persuasion and use to gain compliance?
I’d love to hear about how you’ve pushed yourself
to use these principles of persuasion. 
I’d also love to hear about your wins and what you learned through the
Science and Practice (Allyn & Bacon, 2001)
Influence At Work         
HBR Business
Essentials: Power, Influence and Persuasion (HBR Press, 2005)
Social Psychology,
3rd ed. (Oxford University Press, 1985)
3 replies
  1. Therapist Los Angeles
    Therapist Los Angeles says:

    Social proof is funny because it's often the chicken or the egg. Usually you have to know well a well-known person who will take a leap of faith and acknowledge that now HE will BE the social proof for those who follow. At least that's how it works with investing.

  2. Sean Patrick
    Sean Patrick says:

    @Therapist, social proof is very a powerful principle of persuasion and there are countless ways to use this principle ethically. There is always the risk of taking a leap of faith when applying any of the principles and that's how we learn to understand the deep mechanics of how each othese elements work instantly without resistance. Would you like to share some typical contexts that you would like me to help you become more proficient when using this principle?

  3. Brian Ahearn
    Brian Ahearn says:

    @Therapist, the person who acknowledges HE will BE the social proof for those to follow is a leader. Many leaders don't look for trends, they follow their vision and sometimes people respond (Martin Luther King, Gandhi, Steve Jobs) and then social proof takes over as more and more people respond. One way leaders can start change is by being AN authority vs. IN authority. Neither Martin Luther King or Gandhi had positional power but people followed them nonetheless because of who they were. They carried their authority with them 24×7.


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