Have you ever read Viktor Frankl’s classic work Man’s Search for Meaning? If you haven’t I can’t recommend it enough! It’s one of the most impacting books I’ve ever read. Despite the sobering description of life in Nazi concentration camps the book has sold more than 12 million copies since it was first published in 1946.
I recently suggested the book to several friends, so I decided to reread the book myself…for no less than the sixth time. Each time I go back to it something new jumps out at me and this time the following quote stood out, “The immediate influence of behavior is always more effective than that of words.”
Think about that quote for just a moment. Frankl’s insight from life in with most horrible conditions lines up with other similar observations from other great thinkers.
“Character may almost be called the most effective means of persuasion.” – Aristotle
“Who you are speaks so loudly I can’t hear what you’re saying.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
Words do matter because they conjure up images, thoughts and feelings that lead to actions. Frankl acknowledged this when he wrote, “But at times a word was effective too, when mental receptiveness had been intensified by some outer circumstances.” However, as someone who wants to be an effective persuader your words will fall on deaf ears if your words and deeds don’t line up. “Do as I say, not as I do,” won’t cut it. After all, if you don’t believe what you’re saying or you don’t adhere to the principles you espouse then why would anyone else?
Nobody is perfect and people don’t expect you to be perfect. When you fail your best bet is to follow Dale Carnegie’s wisdom, “If you’re wrong admit it quickly and emphatically.” I believe most people are forgiving and many times you’ll actually gain credibility when you own up to your mistakes. This taps into what Robert Cialdini calls the principle of authority and the studies he cites show you can gain trust by admitting weakness or mistakes. The sooner you ‘fess up the better.
I observed this not too long ago when State Auto’s CEO Mike LaRocco interacted with employees across the country in an open forum. Since his arrival last May, Mike has encouraged a culture that embraces candor. During the open forum someone spoke up about fear of reprisal from managers when being candid and Mike made a flippant remark and basically blew off the person’s concern. But almost immediately he caught himself and said his response was wrong. He then proceeded to address the concern. Not only did his actions stand out to me, they stood out to many others I spoke with afterwards. He’s talking the talk and more importantly, he’s walking the walk.
So to come full circle, if you want to be effective when it comes to influencing others start with yourself and remember Frankl’s immortal wisdom, “The immediate influence of behavior is always more effective than that of words.” Be a person of consistency and integrity and you’ll enjoy far more professional success and personal happiness.