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Human Resources Respond to Human Psychology

If you’re a human resources professional you know you have a tough job, one that comes with huge responsibilities. Your decisions impact entire departments, divisions and often the whole organization. Those decisions include setting corporate policy for paid time off, merit increases, education reimbursement, retirement savings and the biggie today – health insurance.

The larger the company the easier it is to forget the individuals who make up the departments, divisions and organization. Never lose sight of this reality; a company is no more than the people who choose to work there. It can be extremely dangerous to focus so much on the big picture that individuals become an after thought. You won’t get emails or phone calls from a department or division but you’ll get LOTS of communication from individuals when decisions come down that are perceived to negatively impact them.

In the highly competitive business environment we’re currently in it’s often necessary to make decisions to reduce costs to keep the organization competitive. What’s an HR professional to do when caught between the proverbial rock and a hard place? This is where human psychology comes into play because human resources respond to human psychology. Sometimes it’s not what you say but how you say it that can make all the difference.

For more than seven decades social psychologists, and more recently behavioral economists, have been studying the decision-making process (science of influence and psychology of persuasion) and they’ve gleaned many insights that can help when it comes to communicating HR decisions.

In psychology there’s something known as the contrast phenomenon which describes the reality that you can change how anyone experiences something by what you present first. Perhaps you’re announcing merit increases will be limited to 3% in the upcoming year. If the national average is only 2% then you’ll want to mention that first because 3% will seem to be a good bit larger by comparison. Here’s how you might approach a conversation with an individual:

Bob, you may not be aware but according to Towers-Watson the industry average for merit increases this year is only 2%. However, because we’re doing well we’re giving 3% across the board. I’m sure you wish it were more but here’s the reality; that’s 50% better than most people are getting in this industry. If we keep doing well thanks to contributions from people like you that additional increase adds up to quite a bit over time and it’s what allows us to attract and retain top talent like you.

Another application of contrast might come up with regard to health care. According to the Kaiser Foundationout of pocket health care costs for employees have risen eight times faster than wages! Citing an organization like Kaiser taps into the principle of authority because people believe information more when it comes from perceived experts. As an HR professional you’ll blow a persuasive opportunity if you don’t weave that into your presentation to employees.  Here’s how you might communicate this change:

You’re all aware that the cost of health care is skyrocketing. In most cases what you pay out of pocket has gone up eight times faster than your wages according to the Kaiser Foundation. We find that unacceptable. While we cannot afford to increase your wages at the same pace that health care costs are rising what we’ve done this year is go with a plan that caps your individual and family deductibles at amounts that are less than half the national average.

Another bit of psychology to remember is scarcity. People are more averse to loss than they are to gaining the same thing. In other words, losing $100 hurts more than the joy of winning or finding $100. Let’s continue on with the previous example:

We could have gone with a higher health care deductible this year and paid you a little more because we saved some money. However, the savings would have barely been noticeable in your bi-weekly pay and the reality is you probably would not set aside that small amount in case you needed it for your deductible. According to our health care provider, by going with the lower deductible many of you will avoid paying thousands more on health care bills this year.

The move from traditional vacation/personal/sick time to paid time off (PTO) which allows employees to use their time off any way they see fit can be tricky. Once PTO is in place, as new employees come to the organization they know what they’re signing up for so it’s not a big deal. However, introducing PTO to an organization can be challenging because of the perception of loss. Let’s say you had three weeks of vacation and five sick days available for a total of potentially 20 days off. The move to PTO might give you 18 days but you can use them however you want. Most employees don’t use all of their sick days and some don’t use all of their vacation days which means the typical worker might have 1-5 more days to use however they’d like under a PTO approach. Here’s how you might share this announcement:

To align ourselves with our competition we’re moving from the traditional time off model to PTO. The reason most competitors are going to PTO is because of the flexibility it gives employees. It’s not escaped our notice that some of you may perceive you’re losing time off. Recognizing that we’ve looked at our stats and less than 8% of you used all of your vacation days, personal days and sick time over the last three years. However, 80% of you used fewer than two days of sick time during that period. What that tells us is the vast majority of you will have more days at your disposal to use however you see fit. Many of you will take extra vacation days and that’s okay because that’s what PTO is for.

Will you still have some disgruntle employees? Sure, and you always will no matter what you say or do. After all, some people are only “happy” when they’re unhappy and others will always look at the downside rather than the potential upside. However, by framing your conversations using your understanding of social psychology and behavioral economics you’ll win over more people in the long run which means dealing with fewer calls and email from employees who don’t like change.

Brian Ahearn, CMCT®, is the Chief Influence Officer at Influence PEOPLE, LLC. His Lynda.com/LinkedIn Learning course, Persuasive Selling, has been viewed nearly 150,000 times! The course teaches you how to ethically engage the psychology of persuasion throughout the sales process. Not watched it yet?  To see what you’ve been missing click here.

Why is it so hard to…

Have you ever wondered why it’s so hard to…do certain things and not do others? It’s a good bet that a lot has to do with psychology and conditioning. Your rational brain might be telling you one thing but something deep inside is prompting you in another direction. For example, why is it so hard to…

…say no to a friend? Imagine for a moment a stranger asks you for your last $10. I’m sure it would be very easy to say no but if a friend asked it would be much tougher to resist their request. That’s because the principle of liking is at work on you. It’s often the case that your willingness, or unwillingness, to do something has more to do with who is asking than what’s being asked. One word of advice; be wary of the person you come to like too quickly, especially if they ask for something shortly after meeting you.

…not say thanks to unwanted actions? Many years ago, my daughter and I were walking through the mall. Shortly after entering we were accosted by someone from a kiosk asking if we wanted to try Dead Sea Salt facial cream. I simply said, “No,” and immediately felt Abigail elbow me as she said, “Dad, it’s ‘no thank you.’” I asked her why I should say thank him when I didn’t appreciate being interrupted and wasn’t thankful for what he was offering? She advised me it’s considered polite to say, “No, thank you.” That social norm comes about because the principle of reciprocity conditions us to give back to those who first give. Even when someone’s actions are unwanted reciprocity typically prompts a conditioned response from us.

…go against the crowd? We all felt peer pressure growing up. Parents worry about kids caving to the pressure of underage drinking, sex, drugs and other behaviors that could be harmful. The pressure to conform never goes away but as we move past the teenage years we call this phenomenon the principle of consensus or social proof. All you have to do is observe an office setting to see how people look around then naturally begin to conform to what they observe. Whether it’s a new initiative at work, dress code, or some cultural norm, people find it hard to go against the crowd because standing out might reflect negatively on them as Robert Cialdini explains in this video from Big Think.

…dismiss expert advice? Your friend tells you to quit smoking and you pay little attention but your doctor tells you and resisting the advice becomes tougher. That’s because the principle of authority is working on your brain. In one study (Expert Advice Shuts Your Brain Down) brain imaging showed critical thinking almost comes to a halt when a perceived expert is giving advice! But, that same advice from someone with no credentials is easy to ignore.

…change your mind? The pressure to be consistent in what you say and do (principle of consistency) is HUGE. One reason that’s so because changing your mind might mean you have to admit you’ve been wrong. If you’ve held a particular view for a long time then it’s even tougher despite the reality that you’re always learning, growing and evolving in your views. One could make the case that changing one’s mind shows openness, flexibility and perhaps enlightenment but that nagging feeling of having been wrong is very difficult to overcome.

…resist some sales pitches? Buyer’s remorse is all too common. This happens when shortly after a purchase people regret their decision and wonder why they bought what they did. The pressure exerted from the principle of scarcity – fear or losing – is often the driver. There’s a fear that if you don’t buy that smart phone, new car, furniture, or something else, you might not get that good a deal again. Yet, in a moment of clear thinking you’d acknowledge sales are a dime a dozen. But here’s the problem – you’re not thinking clearly when you encounter scarcity. The following quote from the book Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Much explains why – “Scarcity captures the mind. Just as the starving subjects had food on their mind, when we experience scarcity of any kind, we become absorbed by it. The mind orients automatically, powerfully, toward unfulfilled needs.”

For the most part our psychology and conditioning is good because both are meant to help you survive and thrive in a constantly changing environment. But, your subconscious can’t tell when the situation is life or death so it responds just as it did tens of thousands of years ago and that’s why it is so hard to…do many things.

Brian Ahearn, CMCT®, is the Chief Influence Officer at Influence PEOPLE, LLC and Learning Director for State Auto Insurance. His Lynda.com/LinkedIn Learning course, Persuasive Selling, has been viewed nearly 145,000 times! Have you seen it yet? Watch it and you’ll learn how to ethically engage the psychology of persuasion throughout the sales process.

Perhaps the Most Persuasive Advertisement Ever

Ernest Shackleton might not be a familiar name because his famous expedition to Antarctica took place more than 100 years ago. In one sense it ended in failure but viewed from a different lens it was one of the greatest human achievements ever. To entice men to join him he used perhaps the most persuasive advertisement ever.

In 1914, Ernest Shackleton and 28 men boarded the Endurance and set sail for Antarctica. The goal was to be the first humans to cross the continent using sled dogs. Weather conditions not only prevented the crew from achieving their goal, they were stranded for nearly two years on the continent and a small island. Despite the dangers, miraculously everyone survived. I encourage you to watch this National Geographic documentary to learn about this amazing triumph of the human spirit.

Legend has it  that Shackleton took out an ad (no one can find the original) in an English newspaper that read:

“Men wanted for hazardous journey. Low wages, bitter cold, long hours of complete darkness. Safe return doubtful. Honour and recognition in event of success.”

Take another look at the ad and think about it for just a moment. It starts with bad news and that bad news is nearly three quarters of the message! Why would anyone lead with bad news when it could turn away prospective crew members before they even finished reading it? A case could be made to not share any bad news because it might scare potential crew off. If it had to be shared then at least minimize the bad news and put it at the end. And despite these seeming errors, it was perhaps the most persuasive advertisement ever!

I’ll go so fas as to say, whoever wrote the ad copy was brilliant! Why do I believe that? Because, despite having no research to fall back on from behavioral economics or social psychology, the writer tapped into exactly what the research would have told them to do in order to be persuasive.

First is the ethics. It would have been unethical to try to hide the fact that the trip was going to be extremely dangerous. Being truthful about that most important fact gained Shackleton instant credibility from people considering joining him. After all, if he was truthful enough to address that right away he must be a pretty honest guy.

Second is the magnitude of the negative. As noted above, the bulk of the message (70% with 17 of 24 words) is related to the negative news. Shackleton wasn’t trying to hide the reality that it would be a very dangerous expedition. Only “You will die” would have been worse than “Safe return doubtful.” Shackleton didn’t try to minimize the danger, he actually went out of his way to highlight it!

Third is the order of the words. By starting with the bad news even more credibility was gained for Shackleton. More important than that; by ending the with good news – “Honour and recognition in event of success” – potential crew members were focused on the positive. Consider the two paragraphs below then ask yourself which would be more likely to motivate you to join Shackleton’s crew.

  1. “Honour and recognition in event of success. Men wanted for hazardous journey. Low wages, bitter cold, long hours of complete darkness. Safe return doubtful.”
  2. “Men wanted for hazardous journey. Low wages, bitter cold, long hours of complete darkness. Safe return doubtful. Honour and recognition in event of success.”

I’m sure the vast majority of readers opted for paragraph #2.

When it comes to recruiting to join you or your organization you may not need people who will risk life and limb but you can take the lessons from Shackleton’s approach to be a more effective persuader.

First, be an ethical influencer and share the downside about what you’re asking. Don’t stop there, make sure you share it in such a way that there’s no doubt about it, no perception you tried to hide anything negative. Next, consider the order of your message. Most of the time you’ll want to start with the negative and end with the positive because people tend to remember what comes last. Finally, something not in Shackleton’s ad that you’ll want to consider is separating the bad from the good with a transitional word like “but” or “however.” Transitional words emphasize the difference even more and make the end more likely to be remembered and acted on.

Simple advice that goes against “common sense” but can help you succeed professionally and personally.

Brian Ahearn, CMCT®, is the Chief Influence Officer at Influence PEOPLE, LLCand Learning Director for State Auto Insurance. His Lynda.com course, Persuasive Selling, has been viewed 140,000 times! Watch it and you’ll learn how to ethically engage the psychology of persuasion throughout the sales process.

Systems Plus Persuasion Equal Success

Something I’ve noticed over time is how much systems contribute to success. It’s not to say that being carefree and creative don’t have value – they do. However, my observation has been with most things – learning, fitness, health, sales, coaching, leadership, etc. – having good systems in place are much more beneficial than winging it. Even with creative endeavors like improv comedy, there’s a system or approach that’s used. It may appear as though those doing the comedy are just going with the flow but there’s a structure underneath their creativity.

Two athletic examples come right to mind when I think about systematic approaches: weightlifting and running.

As a teenager I learned a system for weightlifting that made a world of difference. Before my junior season of high school football, I worked out consistently for a year and only gained 5 lbs. Pretty disappointing! During the offseason before my senior year I learned a system for working out and put on 30 lbs. before the season started. At my peak in college I was 90 lbs. heavier than when I first started lifting.

When I took up running my first marathon was a disaster. I covered the 26.2 miles in four hours and fourteen minutes and “hit the wall” about 20 miles into the race. Then I learned a system for running and eventually cut an hour off of that first marathon time and qualified for the Boston Marathon in the process.

In business I’ve seen this play out time and time again. People and organizations with systematic approaches win consistently. Let’s take leadership, sales and coaching as examples.

I’ve spent a lot of time learning and applying leadership concepts from Focus 3. At a high level their system focuses on three things: leaders, culture and behavior.

In the Focus 3 approach leaders create the culture that drives the behaviors that lead to results. If you want better results you need better behaviors which means creating the right culture to support the right behaviors. That’s why culture is the #1 responsibility of leaders.

When it comes to behavior Focus 3 uses the following formula: E+R=O. In plain English this means Event plus Response equals Outcome. Life happens (events) and we usually have no control over those events in the moment. We can influence outcomes in the direction we want by choosing disciplined responses. These disciplined responses are our behaviors.

When it comes to sales the system is pretty simple. Selling is about building rapport with the prospective customer, overcoming objections they may pose then closing the sale.

Coaching has a system very similar to sales. Coaching also starts with building rapport, gaining trust, then motivating the person being coached to new behaviors. Without relationship and trust it’s not likely someone will follow the advice of a coach.

Where does influence come into these business systems? Every step of the way! According to Aristotle, persuasion is about getting people to do things they wouldn’t ordinarily do if you didn’t ask. Whether you’re leading, selling or coaching, the principles of influence can be used to support the system because they can be used to change behaviors. For example, the principles we call liking and reciprocity are excellent ways to build rapport. To gain someone’s trust or overcome objections the principles of authority and consensus come into play. And finally, to close a sale or motivate behavior change try the principles of consistency or scarcity. Do you have a system in place that will lead you to success? If so, then consider how you’ll execute your system. If your system involves other people at any point then you’ll want to decide which principles of persuasion you can tap into to get a better result.

Brian Ahearn, CMCT®, is the Chief Influence Officer at InfluencePEOPLEand Learning Director for State Auto Insurance. His Lynda.com course, Persuasive Selling, has been viewed more than 130,000 times! Have you seen it yet? Watch it and you’ll learn how to ethically engage the psychology of persuasion throughout the sales process.

We Know What to Do but Often Fail to Do It

Something I’ve consistently observed in people is this; quite often we know what to do but too often we fail to do it. Here are a few examples that come right to mind:

  • We know exercise is good for us and yet very few people do even minimal exercise.
  • We know how to eat healthy but still make lots of poor choices because of momentary temptation.
  • We know we should save for retirement but let immediate desires take precedence over our long-term financial goals.

When it comes to persuasion this is often the case too – people intuitively know what to do but don’t act on that knowledge. This important because it hurts your chances for professional success and personal happiness. When I speak to audiences they intuitively know the answers to many of the questions I pose when it comes to human behavior. However, my observation is that very few people act on what they know to be true in their gut. Let me give you examples for each of the principles of influence.

When it comes to reciprocity people know it’s good to be a giver. They know it makes them feel good, makes the other person feel good, and can lead to good outcomes like return favors. But when it comes to trying to change other’s behavior most people reflexively go back to a reward system that isn’t always so effective.

We all know it’s easier for people to say yes to us when they like us. That’s liking in action. However, too often people forego relationship building so they can “get down to business.” They let the busyness of the day get in the way of doing simple things that could help them get more accomplished and enjoy those they work with in the process.

We know there’s power in the crowd (consensus). After all, as the old saying goes, “Everyone can’t be wrong.” Well, the crowd can be wrong but usually going along with the crowd works to people’s advantage. If it didn’t we’d have stopped following the crowd long ago. Even though folks know this they don’t like to “pressure” someone by invoking the principle of consensus despite the fact that what they’re trying to get the other person to do would be in their best interest.

We know experts are believed more than the average person. Despite knowing this I’ve come across very few people who would think of sharing their bio with someone to get a third-party introduction. Even fewer are comfortable personally sharing their background for fear of coming across as a braggart. This is a big lost opportunity.

The principle of consistency can be easily invoked by asking someone to do something rather than telling them what to do. Although people know that they fall back on telling out of habit or a stubbornness. The stubbornness is revealed when a person says something like this, “As a parent (or boss) I shouldn’t have to ask!” Maybe you shouldn’t…unless you want be more effective at changing behavior.

Scarcity it perhaps missed the most. Intuitively crowds I speak to know people are more motivated by what they might lose as opposed to what they might gain. Although they know this they shy away from using legitimate scarcity because they don’t want to come across as negative or some kind of fear monger. If the studies are correct then they could be 2.0-2.5 time more effective if they would legitimately incorporate scarcity into their request.

Each instance where someone fails to act on what the psychology of persuasion has to say (something they quite often know in their gut) they hurt their chances for professional success and personal happiness. Don’t let that happen to you! Learn what the science has to teach you about how to effectively influence people then make the choice to act on it.

Brian Ahearn, CMCT®, is the Chief Influence Officer at InfluencePEOPLEand Learning Director at State Auto Insurance. His Lynda.com course, Persuasive Selling, has been viewed nearly 130,000 times! Have you seen it yet? Watch it and you’ll learn how to ethically engage the psychology of persuasion throughout the sales process.

Overcoming Youth or Inexperience in Business

Recently I was on LinkedIn and saw a question about overcoming youth and/or inexperience in business. When I think I can add to a conversation I’ll usually chime in and did so in this case.

The person who was seeking guidance was fresh out of college and decided to pursue her master’s degree while working full time in a managerial role. Because of her age and inexperience she ran into resistance to her ideas and suggestions. She said it got so bad they brought in a more experienced professional who told the staff exactly what she’d been saying all along. She recognized those same suggestions carried more weight coming from the experienced professional. Bottom line, she wanted to know how young, or inexperienced, managers can overcome the lack of trust and respect from older, more experienced coworkers.

The scenario is a familiar one and perhaps one you’ve faced it or might in the future. With that thought in mind, I decided to share with you the advice I gave to this young lady on LinkedIn.

The good news is, there are several ways to potentially youth or inexperience. The first comes from Robert Cialdini. Cialdini is the most cited living social psychologist in the world when it comes to persuasion and according to his research the principle of authority is what’s needed here if you want to gain traction for your ideas and suggestions.

This principle of influence tells us people will defer to those with superior wisdom or expertise when making decisions. That’s because we generally feel more confident when an authority tells us something. In order to be seen as an authority you need two traits: trust and credibility.

Trust comes from being the kind of person who keeps your word. When you consistently do what you say people believe you. That belief extended into the future is trust.

Credibility is established when you show you know what you’re doing. Credibility can come from your own expertise or you can borrow it. When you’re young or inexperienced you probably won’t be seen as an expert so the next best thing is borrowing expertise by citing sources. When you share ideas, cite people who are experts who believe in the same approach. You should also share research that backs up your suggestions about what should be done. Quite often those two things – trust and credibility – can be the difference between buy-in or rejection of your ideas.

A second approach comes from Focus 3, a leadership firm. Focus 3 views trust as the foundation to getting results in business.  In their view trust is comprised of three things: connection, competence and character. All three are necessary for trust and strength in one area won’t necessarily make up for weakness in another area.

Character, as already noted, is being someone who can be counted on to be a person of integrity. Do you keep your word? Do you act consistently with people? Are you believable? The good news is being a person of character is simply a choice you make to do what you say you’ll do.

Connection is the relationship you have with people and it’s a two-way street. The more people know and like you the more they’ll respond positively to you. When people know you like them they naturally assume you’ll have their best interests at heart which make is even easier for them to do what you ask. Cialdini calls this the principle of liking.

Competence is your ability to make others better and provide the help they need. This doesn’t mean you’re better than the people you manage. On the contrary, those you lead are probably much better at their job than you would be if you did it and that’s okay! As a leader your primary role is to take what you know and use it to help make your team better.

Mastery of character, connection and competence will help you gain the trust you need to lead a team.

Finally, address your age or inexperience quickly. You might say, “I know I’m new here but I see that as an advantage because I’m not constrained by how things have always been done.”

Another approach might be, “I know some of you are looking at me wondering what someone like me can bring to the table because I’m young. There are certainly things I won’t know but something that I’ve learned is that many great ideas have come from people while they were young because they saw things from a fresh perspective. Einstein, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs are great examples.”

The point in addressing age or experience is to acknowledge it early, then transition with a word like “but” or “however” into your strengths. Doing so gains you credibility because you’re seen as trustworthy when you own up to weakness. The good news is people usually forget what comes before “but” and that keeps them more focused on your strengths and how you can help them.

Persuasion isn’t a magic wand. Doing what I’ve listed above is no guarantee everyone who reports to you will overlook your youth or inexperience and fall in line. But, I’m confident you’ll see more people give you the trust and respect you’re looking for because decades of research show that to be the case with the approaches I’ve outlined.

Brian Ahearn, CMCT®, is the Chief Influence Officer at InfluencePEOPLE and Learning Director at State Auto Insurance. His Lynda.com course, Persuasive Selling, has been viewed more than 125,000 times! Have you seen it yet? Watch it and you’ll learn how to ethically engage the psychology of persuasion throughout the sales process.

What Do You Want Them to Remember?

A few weeks ago, I finished a book called Endure: Mind, Body, and the Curiously Elastic Limits of Human Performance by Alex Hutchinson and Malcolm Gladwell. Having run many marathons in the past, and still running six or seven days a week, I’m always interested to learn tips that can help improve my performance. This post isn’t about improving running performance but if you remember what I share it will help you improve your persuasion performance.

As a persuader, one question you need to ask yourself when giving a presentation or sharing information is, “What do I want them to remember?” This jumped out at me as I read the following paragraph from Endure:

“Personally, my gut instinct is to hope that anti-doping authorities proactively ban the technique before it becomes widespread, simply because I’m uncomfortable with imagining my sixteen-year-old self, desperate for any athletic edge, playing around with scalp-mounted electrodes. But I fully understand that others might disagree with banning an apparently safe and noninvasive way of boosting performance.”

Did you catch the subtlety? Alex was a competitive runner for many years and clearly opens with his desire to ban electronic brain stimulation to enhance performance while acknowledging the other side of the debate.

A master persuader would have remembered that people generally forget what comes before “but” and focus on what comes after. Just think of this phrase and you’ll know what I mean, “Honey, I love you but…” You tend to forget the “I love you” and focus on what comes next which is never as nice as love.

If Alex really wanted to drive home his point he should have written the paragraph the following way:

“I fully understand that others might disagree with banning an apparently safe and noninvasive way of boosting performance but personally, my gut instinct is to hope that anti-doping authorities proactively ban the technique before it becomes widespread, simply because I’m uncomfortable with imagining my sixteen-year-old self, desperate for any athletic edge, playing around with scalp-mounted electrodes.”

This rearranged paragraph starts out acknowledging the other side of the argument but ends with the desire to ban the practice. Does it seem like I’m knit picking? Does the order of a few words really matter that much? Consider these two paragraphs:

  1. “The impact of your donation has never been greater than it is today, but we know how difficult it is for many people to give during these difficult economic times.”
  2. “We know how difficult it is for many people to give during these difficult economic times, but the impact of your donation has never been greater than it is today.”

Both paragraphs use exactly the same words. The first paragraph leaves you focused on the difficulty of giving whereas the second ends with you focusing on the importance of your donation. In this real-life comparison the second paragraph drew 36% more donations than the first paragraph!

Most people wouldn’t notice the difference in the order of words until it’s pointed out. However, that subtle difference still registers in the back of the mind because so much persuasion takes place at the subconscious level. This is a small, costless change that can lead to a big difference in your ability to successfully persuade.

The goal of Endure is much bigger than persuading or not persuading people to try brain stimulation as a performance enhancer. But words matter and, in this case, the author would have done well to carefully consider what he wanted people to remember. Indeed, you and I would do well to carefully think through what we want people to remember when we’re communicating. The use of transitional words like “but” and “however” can make a huge difference if the information you share is positioned correctly.

Brian Ahearn, CMCT®, is the Chief Influence Officer at InfluencePEOPLE. His Lynda.com course, Persuasive Selling, has been viewed more than 120,000 times! Have you seen it yet? Watch it to learn how to ethically engage the psychology of persuasion throughout the sales process.

Leadership, Authority and Influence are All Intertwined

I’ve spent a lot of time the past six months immersing myself in leadership material from Focus 3 because it’s really good stuff. They’re called Focus 3 because they focus on three things: leadership, culture and behavior. Their overarching view is this: leaders create the culture within an organization which drives the behaviors that lead to results.

Tim Kight, the founder of Focus 3, did a presentation on How Leaders Achieve Great Results and during that talk he said something that resonated with me. He told the audience, “Leadership is not authority based on a position you’ve been given. It is influence based on trust you’ve earned.”

Are you a leader? Leaders have followers. You may have the title and corner office but that’s no guarantee that people will follow you. Even if they follow, are they doing so enthusiastically or begrudgingly? If they’re only following because they have to then they’re not much better than those who don’t follow.

Getting people to follow you is where influence comes in handy. Influence, when used correctly and ethically, can help build relationships and trust as well as motivate people to action.

How do you build relationships?

Engage the principles of liking and reciprocity and you’ll find it a bit easier because when people like you they’ll be more inclined to do what you ask. But the key isn’t to try to get them to like you. Rather, you should make every effort to come to like them. Pay attention to others and look to connect on what you have in common.

Your other opportunity is to have the mindset that you want to catch them doing what’s right. When you do so and pay the person a genuine compliment it also works on your mindset. After all, don’t you generally think more highly of people you compliment?

As a leader, do you actively look to help your people grow and develop?

The second way to build relationship is by engaging the principle of reciprocity. When you coach them, provide resources and help them achieve their goals they’ll appreciate you and naturally look to repay the favor. When your team knows you have their best interest at heart it builds relationships.

Are you an expert and do you use it to help others?

It’s one thing to be good at what you do but it’s quite another to use your competency to help others get better too. The other half of the equation is trust. It does little good to be some kind of expert if people don’t trust you. Much of your trust comes from your character. Do you do what you say you’ll do? That’s why Aristotle said, “Character may almost be called the most effective means of persuasion.”

Finally, a leader needs to get people to take action.

The most effective way is by using the principle of consistency. Instead of telling people what to do (this doesn’t engage the principle) try asking. The big reason this is so effective is because once someone has agreed to do something they feel internal psychological pressure and external social pressure to follow through on their commitment. This is why I always encourage audiences to stop telling, start asking.

Becoming an effective leader isn’t rocket science but there is a science to it. When ethically looking for opportunities to engage the science of influence you’ll build relationships, gain trust and move people to take the actions necessary to ensure success.

Brian Ahearn, CMCT®, is the Chief Influence Officer at InfluencePEOPLE. His Lynda.com course, Persuasive Selling, has been viewed more than 100,000 times! Have you seen it yet? Watch it to learn how to ethically engage the psychology of persuasion throughout the sales process.

Overcome Mistakes, Mend Fences, Restore Trust

In life mistakes happen. In fact, they happen all the time because we’re imperfect humans. Quite often that means we need to mend fences if we want to overcome mistakes and restore trust. If you look up the phrase “fence-mending” one definition you’ll see comes from Dictionary.com; “the practice of reestablishing or strengthening personal, business, or political contacts and relationships by conciliation or negotiation, as after a dispute, disagreement, or period of inactivity.” Because mistakes are inevitable we need to know how to overcome the negative impact they can have on relationships. Let’s take a look at a simple three step process.

Apologize

Step one is to apologize. The good news is apologizing isn’t a skill you don’t possess. Apologizing is a choice any of us can make. It might feel awkward and uncomfortable but we can all choose to apologize if we can let go of our fear and negative emotions.

Ask for Forgiveness

It’s always good to know whether or not your apology was accepted. Simply ask, “Do you forgive me?” I’ve had people say that’s awkward in business so another approach might be asking, “Are we good?” There are two possible outcomes: you’re forgiven or you’re not.

If you’ve been forgiven that’s cool so leave it alone. In sales there’s something called “selling past the close,” and it can be fatal to making the sale. If someone says they want to buy then it’s time to shut up because talking more might cause them to change their mind! By the same token, when someone forgives you it’s time to shut up because your continued talking might reopen the wound you want to heal.

Let’s say the other person doesn’t acknowledge your request for forgiveness or says they don’t forgive you. Take the high road. You might say, “I’m sorry you feel that way. I can’t change the past so all I can do is apologize and try to do better going forward.” If nothing else you can leave the situation knowing you did the right thing. And maybe, just maybe the other person will forgive you in that moment or sometime down the road.

Prove Yourself

If you get the opportunity to prove yourself take it! I also encourage you to make sure the other person knows about your change. Let’s say you got a report in late and that negatively impacted a teammate at work. The next time you have to turn something in look to get in to your coworker a day or two in advance of when they asked for it. When you give it to them you might say, “I know I blew it last time but I wasn’t going to let that happen again so I wanted to get you this as quickly as I could.” Actions speak louder than words but words can be used to highlight your actions and bring them to consciousness for the other person.

Silver Linings

There are a couple of silver linings with mistakes. First, sometimes when you work to correct mistakes relationships can actually improve. For example, some studies show people rate the service higher at restaurants and hotels when there was some mix up but it was corrected to the satisfaction of the customer. Why is that? When you go out of your way to make things right you engage reciprocity. Most people see that extra effort and feel obligated to give a better tip, rating or satisfaction score.

Another silver lining is this; admitting a mistake can make you more trustworthy and enhance your authority with others. Authority is the principle of influence that tells us people defer to those with superior wisdom, knowledge or expertise. Authority rests on two things – credibility (you know what you’re doing) and trustworthiness (you can be counted on). The net positive with enhancing trust is increased authority which means people are more likely to follow your lead or advice down the road.

To Do

This week I encourage you to actively look for your mistakes that impact others. When you see them, don’t wait for someone else to discover them, own up to them immediately. This taps into Dale Carnegie’s advice, “When you’re wrong, admit it quickly and emphatically.” Doing so will allow you to practice a much-needed skill for interpersonal relationships and make it easier to do when the stakes are higher.

Remain Calm to Maintain Your Presence and Personal Power

I just finished Amy Cuddy’s new book Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challenges. I’ve been a fan of Cuddy’s since I first saw her Ted Talk which focused on how we can use our bodies to feel more confident and powerful. I highly recommend watching it and picking up a copy of her new book.

As I read the book I came across a section where she shared how her reactivity to criticism actually hurt her presence and thus her personal power. Her story reminded me of several huge lessons I learned early in my career at State Auto Insurance.

In the mid 1990s I moved into a new job which was a newly created position in the company. One of my responsibilities was to create new sales reports using Microsoft products so senior management wouldn’t have to wait for the old mainframe reports. They recognized creating and revising reports would be much faster and easier using the new technology.

I had produced a series of sales reports that were distributed to mid-level and senior managers throughout the company. A couple of managers from one office disagreed with some of my numbers and labels but rather than get with me to discuss the matter they sent a scathing memo to my boss and several others, including the CEO.

I remember where I was when I read their memo and I was pissed! Fortunately, I had the presence of mind to tell myself, “Your self-worth is not wrapped up in those reports.” With that I decided not to respond for a few days.

Once my head cleared and my emotions subsided I went through the memo and addressed every criticism in a response to my boss, the Vice President of Sales. Where I made mistakes, I owned up to them and told him what corrections I would make. Most of the report was correct and I made sure to point that out and why I believed that to be the case. My only goal was to make sure my boss knew I was on top of it.

Unbeknownst to me, he shared my response with the CEO. In turn the CEO promptly sent a note to all managers which said, “When I put Brian in this position is wasn’t to make him the resident S.O.B. of the company. If you have issues with what he produces please see me.” When the CEO has your back that’s a good feeling!

But here’s the icing on the cake. During a big market strategy session, with more than 50 of our top brass in attendance, one of the people who authored the memo was presenting information about his territory. As he discussed his market strategy report, which he had prepared himself, he told the assembled group of managers to, “Cross out that number because it’s wrong.” Moments later the company president slipped me a note that read, “Paybacks are a bitch,” and he smiled as I read it.

Between the backing of my boss, the president and our CEO, I knew I had made the right choice to respond rather than react to the situation.

Here are three big lessons I learned that might come in handy for you someday.

  1. Don’t be reactive. As Cuddy points out, you diminish your personal power when you react because you don’t allow yourself to consider the best options. This is especially true the more emotional you are.
  2. Admit mistakes. Dale Carnegie famously said, “When you’re wrong, admit it quickly and emphatically.” Doing this builds what Robert Cialdini calls your “authority” because you’re viewed as being more honest and trustworthy.
  3. Hold your ground when you’re right. It would have been a big failure on my part to not point out all the areas where I had produced correct information. The last thing you want it to continually be on the defensive if you want to be successful when it comes to persuasion.

Most situations you face are not life and death where thinking too long could be fatal. In the vast majority of the situations you encounter you have time to respond but you need to quickly remind yourself of that fact. Remember, you’ll have more personal power in the moment if you respond rather than react. I hope remembering this post proves as beneficial for you just as pausing did for me.