Last week I wrote about the absurdity that other people cannot persuade us to change our minds. Shortly after that post I listened to a podcast I follow with some regularity. It occurred to me that on nearly every episode I find myself contending with the podcast host and his viewpoints. That’s because he makes me think and often changes what I think regarding different issues.
The person I’m referring to is Adam Grant. He’s an organizational psychologist, Wharton professor, TED speaker who’s had millions of views, and a multiple time best-selling author. He says he studies “how to make work not suck.” That’s an admirable goal!
If you’re going to listen to someone, Grant has earned the right to be listened to. His podcast is Work Life Balance and I frequently find myself challenged as I listen to him and his guests.
The episode that sparked this post was Why it Pays to Raise Pay where he discussed the idea of paying people more…sometimes a lot more…for their work. The episode caught my attention because of all the talk about possibly raising the minimum wage.
In college I was a general business major, and part of that curriculum was several micro and macroeconomics classes. Because I’m somewhat of a nerd, at least according to my wife, you’ll find a copy of Thomas Sowell’s 600-page Basic Economics book on my bookshelf. I read it cover to cover many years ago because I was interested in brushing up on economics.
Grant’s conversations and ideas challenge many common business assumptions regarding employee compensation. Here are a few that stood out for me:
- Some jobs are only worth a certain amount of money, no matter how well someone performs.
- If you let people choose their salary, they’ll overestimate their value, and you’ll end up overpaying them.
- Raising salaries won’t work because you’ll be uncompetitive after raising the price of your goods or services to cover the wage increases.
Based on nearly 40 years of business experience, my studies in economics, and the general assumptions I hold, I found myself resisting the ideas Grant was putting forth. I wondered why I was so resistant then asked myself a few questions to challenge my beliefs.
What if my assumptions are wrong?
That could certainly be the case. Behavioral economics has proven many tightly held economic assumptions are not always true because humans are not the rational, gain maximizing, and loss minimizing beings economists once thought.
Many people assumed work from home would never become a viable option because employees would slack off when unsupervised. That’s not proven to be the case during the pandemic. In fact, many employers are finding people working longer and harder. As a result, many businesses will not go back to the traditional 5-days a week in the office model we were used to.
My assumptions are quite often just that, assumptions. They might have benefitted me to this point but maybe they need to be rethought. After all, Isaac Newton’s law of gravity benefited society but then Einstein’s theory of relativity came along and furthered our understanding of how the universe works.
Why am I resisting the data?
Grant wasn’t just spewing a utopian picture of what could be. He interviewed people at businesses that are going against the grain of the way things have always been done. Although I found myself doubting many of the ideas shared, Grant always brought in results from research or real-world business impact.
What I teach regarding influence sometimes rubs people’s thinking the wrong way, much like my thinking was as I listened to the podcast. I often hear doubting Thomas types say, “That stuff doesn’t work on me.” The research tells a different story and so does my personal experience but with Grant I was the doubting Thomas.
If I’m open to the research findings around influence I should be more open to the research in other domains.
This post is not intended to sway your thinking on the minimum wage or employee benefits. It’s to encourage you to occasionally examine your tightly held beliefs.
Many things we take for granted today at work would have seemed preposterous to employers decades ago. Perhaps some changes being proposed now won’t work as well as intended but they may be steps that lead us to improved working conditions where people are better compensated, more engaged and more productive. That would be a win for employees and employers.
Brian Ahearn is the Chief Influence Officer at Influence PEOPLE, LLC. An author, TEDx speaker, international trainer, coach, and consultant, he’s one of only 20 people in the world personally trained by Robert Cialdini, Ph.D., the most cited living social psychologist on the science of ethical influence.
Brian’s first book, Influence PEOPLE: Powerful Everyday Opportunities to Persuade that are Lasting and Ethical, was named one of the 100 Best Influence Books of All Time by BookAuthority. His new book, Persuasive Selling for Relationship Driven Insurance Agents, was an Amazon new release bestseller in several categories.
Brian’s LinkedIn Learning courses on persuasive selling and coaching have been viewed by more than 370,000 people around the world.