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There are No Dumb Questions, Thanks for Asking

When you were in grade school I bet you had teachers who said, “There are no dumb questions. Thanks for asking.” Why did they say this? Because they understood kids could be self-conscious about looking dumb in front of their peers and that can stifle the learning process. Your teachers also knew the same question was probably on the minds of other kids.

When it comes to persuading people much of the time it entails dialogue and true dialogue means asking questions then listening. Unfortunately, too often people are not actually listening. Stephen Covey put it this way, “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” According to Covey, true listening happens when you “seek first to understand, then be understood.” That usually starts with a question.

A few weeks ago I reached out to a friend via Facebook messenger with a question because I wanted to understand his opinion on something he posted. I asked him about the Megyn Kelly controversy where she said she didn’t see anything wrong with someone dressing up as Diana Ross for Halloween because she’s an icon that many people – black and white – would love to be like. I wanted my friend’s opinion on the topic. He gave a thoughtful response but then told me how disappointed he was in me for asking.

Right or wrong, every step of the way in life we learn. The current views we hold on race, sexuality and many other things in life are learned. What was acceptable 25, 50, 100 years ago is very different than today because we grow and learn. The more “enlightened” views we hold today versus those of the past might be considered racist, homophobic, ignorant in 25 years.

My friend asked why I would come to him, a gay white male, with my question rather than going to a black person. He wrote, “have you ever sat down with a person of color and asked them these hard but informative questions? Based on what you and I have talked about I’m guessing not. Believe me they want us too.” For me the answer was simple; my friend was the one who posted the story along with his opinion so I was curious to know more about his thoughts.

If you’ve read this blog for any length of time you know I’ve not shied away from issues of race. If you’re curious about my thoughts follow this link to see a few of my posts on the subject.

Russell Barrow, an African American, has been my best friend for more than 40 years. He was the best man in my wedding and stood with me at the renewal of my wedding vows. Because he’s so close to our family our daughter Abigail calls him “Uncle Russell.” Russell and I talk almost every day on my drive home from work. We talk about race, politics, President Trump, Colin Kaepernick, times where Russell experienced racism, and many other issues. Nothing is off the table because I love him, respect his opinion and I know whatever question I ask I won’t be judged. That leads to the kinds of conversations most people don’t have. At work I’ve spoken with dozens of African American coworkers over the years and a common question has been, “What’s it like to be an African American working at State Auto Insurance?” The answers have always been eye opening!

I would hope most people who’ve experienced negative attitudes and behaviors from others would welcome the opportunity to change their hearts, minds and actions, especially if they’re approached in a spirt of openness to learn. A great place to start is non-judgmental dialogue that allows people to get to know each other.

What’s to be learned from this experience that might help you in the future? A couple of things come to mind:

  1. First, just because you disagree with someone, or cannot fathom how they might hold an opinion different from yours, don’t make sweeping judgments about them or their psychological state. The truth is, you probably know very little about them, their life experiences or their thinking.
  2. Second, and most importantly, don’t shut down the conversation by making some feel ignorant or bad for asking a question in good faith. Show some grace and be thankful that they asked because it’s the first step towards better understanding. If we stop talking we’re screwed!

Remember, when it comes to persuading others – changing hearts, minds and actions – there are no dumb questions. Be grateful the other person is curious enough to approach you with a “help me understand” or “I’m curious” attitude. Saying, “Thanks for asking,” before sharing your insights will go a long way towards having more constructive conversations in the future. The more we do this as a society the better off we’ll be.

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? Click here to see what you’ve been missing.

I Applaud Starbucks

This week, May 29 to be exact, Starbucks will close 8,000 of its stores to conduct racial bias training for 175,000 employees. I applaud Starbucks for this move. This is in response to the arrest of two black men in a Philadelphia Starbucks. The incident came about after they asked to use the bathroom while they were waiting on a business associate. They were refused and told bathrooms were for paying customers only. Because they would not leave the police were called.

Closing their stores might cost Starbucks $16.7 million in sales. That’s not their only expense because they’ll be paying all 175,000 employees and whatever the cost of the training that’s being developed by several individuals and entities. I think that’s called putting your money where your mouth is. In other words, Starbucks is taking this very seriously.

Will it work? That depends on how you define success. You see, there are several problems with any approach to the issue of racial bias.

All it takes is One Bad Apple

With 175,000 employees there are bound to be some bad apples. I’d venture to say there will be a lot of bad apples in that big an employee pool. Despite many good things Starbucks has done to help communities and embrace diversity it only takes one incident to damage their reputation. Despite all the negative press, not long after the incident in Philadelphia a Latino man in Los Angeles said his Starbucks cup had a racial slur written on it.

What if someone who is overtly racist gets a job at Starbucks just to commit a racist act to intentionally harm the company? What if a genuinely decent person unknowingly says or does something to offend someone? What if someone just has a bad day and says or does something they’ve never said or done before? With so many people in such a large organization we’re fooling ourselves if we think such things won’t happen in the future.

Behavior Change is Hard

As someone who’s been involved in training for about 25 years I can tell you a half day of training isn’t likely to make a big change in behavior. It may produce a small, immediate bump but without ongoing conversations, coaching and continual reminders most of what is taught will fade from memory rather quickly.

There’s something known as the Forgetting Curve based on Ebbinghaus Theory which basically says we will forget most of what we learn without constant reminders and practice. If you doubt that I challenge you to recall much, if anything, from some of your high school or college classes. You may have spent three days a week for 16 weeks in some of those classes and probably can’t recall a thing!

What’s Implicit Bias?

According to the Kirwan Institute at Ohio State University, “implicit bias refers to the attitudes or stereotypes that affect our understanding, actions, and decisions in an unconscious manner.” Did you catch the “unconscious manner” part at the end? A big part of the racism problem is people don’t believe they’re racist. They are but they’re unaware of it. I’m sure you’ve heard people say, “I’m the least racist person you’ll ever meet,” or “I don’t see color.” Yea right.

I wrote a blog post years ago about this issue and called it I’m Racist, You’re Racist, Everyone is Racist. I’ll leave it to you to read the post but suffice it to say we all harbor attitudes which, if surfaced, might surprise us. Nobody is immune. Even people who spend the better part of their lives fighting racism sometimes engage in racist behaviors. Two examples would be Melissa Harris-Perry and more recently Joy Reid.

And consider this; many acceptable things people say and do today might be considered racist 50 or 100 years from now because societal norms change.

As I shared in the opening, I applaud Starbucks. They’re trying and they’re putting their money where their mouth is. If we collectively stop doing business with every organization that has someone do something racially insensitive we won’t have anywhere to shop. My personal opinion is this; we need to call out racism when we encounter it. Once we’ve done that we need to react more to the way a business handles the incident than the fact that it occurred.

Brian Ahearn, CMCT®, is the Chief Influence Officer at InfluencePEOPLE and 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.

Why Don’t We Just Listen for a Change

I was inspired to write this week’s post after watching an enlightening Ted Talk from Theo E.J. Wilson called A Black Man Goes Undercover in the Alt-Right. Don’t worry, this post is not to advocate for any particular position on the political and social spectrum. Rather it’s about the lost art of listening and communicating to understand one another. Theo rightly points out things that prevent us from understanding each other and I have added some of the principles of influence that make it easy to happen:

Online Algorithms

These algorithms begin to filter information to us that we already view and believe, an application of the principle of consistency. It’s no different than the Amazon recommendations that pop up based on prior purchase decisions and sites you’ve viewed. Isn’t it someone freaky how you can start to type in a Google search and the choices that appear almost always contain the exact search you need? It’s as if Google read your mind! This curating of information is constantly going on behind the scenes and may be limiting your worldview.

Media Outlets

We make active choices that narrow our worldview such as only watching Fox News or CNN to the exclusion of all other media outlets. We do so because other large groups of people like us – the principle of consensus – hold the same views. I try to watch MSNBC and Fox in equal amounts because it’s like viewing the world from the North Pole and South Pole. Doing so gives me a better view of the entire planet. Make no mistake, news outlets are run by human beings and have their own bias points of view so be wary.

Our Associations

We tend to hang out with like-minded people. This is a natural phenomenon – the liking principle – because we like people who are similar to us and it’s less taxing mentally to have conversations with people who think like we do.

Social Media

Online “conversations” aren’t really conversations at all. They’ve become forums to espouse views then vehemently defend them. This is one way the principle of consistency can lead us astray. For more on this I will refer you to a post I wrote years ago called Why Facebook Doesn’t Change Anyone’s Opinion.

I’m sure you can think of more things that limit our ability to understand each other. Here are some ideas to perhaps change this. By change I don’t necessarily mean your views have to change but, if you come to understand another person, their point of view, and can maintain respect for them, then isn’t that a good thing?

When was the last time you had a conversation with someone who was different than you, not to convince them of your point of view, but to simply get to know them and their point of view better? I find it’s best to do this in person, over coffee, a drink, or a meal, where there can be dialog instead of monologue.

Have you ever asked someone what it’s like to be them? Two conversations I’ll never forget happened with a couple of African-Americans; a coworker and my best friend. With my coworker, I asked her on a flight from Nashville to Columbus what it was like to be an African-American working at my company. She talked non-stop the entire flight and I had a new, enlightened point of view.

The other conversation was with my best friend after Barack Obama won the presidential election in 2008. You cannot imagine the pride he expressed at something he never thought he would see in his lifetime. I don’t believe in either case the conversations would have happened if I had not opened the door with questions. Give a safe place for people to express themselves and you’ll be surprised at what you hear.

What was refreshing in the Ted Talk was hearing Theo acknowledge that many people who held views completely opposite from his were still people just like him. He saw pictures of kids and families. He saw people who enjoyed activities and liked to have fun. They were humans who viewed the world differently. When we lose sight of other people’s humanity we’re in big trouble because we treat them as things to be opposed. We need not look any further than Nazi Germany and the Holocaust to see what people can do to those they consider less than human.

It was also refreshing to hear Theo acknowledge flaws in the thinking of people he more closely aligned himself with. Every side has flaws because they’re made up of human beings, all of whom are flawed.

Someone asked me recently if I thought our country was more divided than ever. My response was no because there was a time we were so divided we plummeted into civil war. We have an opportunity to turn much of our negativity and opposition into something better. In order to do that I believe we need to stop opposing each other, stop shouting each other down and start having real, person to person conversations. Steven Covey encouraged us to “seek first to understand, then be understood.” That would be a great starting place.  I encourage you this week, reach out to someone who is different than you and start a dialogue.

What’s Wrong With America?

We’ve had more than a month to let the presidential election settle in. Trump supporters hail it as a victory over the establishment, a chance to “drain the swamp” and possibly begin a new age in American politics. Meanwhile Hillary supporters believe his election has set us back decades on issues like gender and racial equality and they’ve taken to the streets to make their voices heard.

So what’s wrong with America? Are we a nation full of racists and bigots? I don’t think we’re anymore racist today than we were in 2008 when we elected President Obama. At that time the focus was the historical significance of the first African-American president and people were talking about how far we’d come as a nation on the issue of race. Have we regressed that quickly?

No, I don’t think we’ve taken a step back. We just had not taken as many steps forward as we thought. And for those who did make some strides, it seems as though they didn’t take a look over their shoulder to see how many others were keeping up.

In my persuasion workshops I share the following quote from Samuel Butler, “He who complies against his will is of the same opinion still.” I think that sums up the politically correct (PC) environment. The PC culture hasn’t changed hearts and minds, it merely silenced many people. Fear of loss, fear of being the outcast, and not wanting to go against the tide do nothing to change hearts and minds.

Because of Donald Trump’s brash, often offensive approach, many who were silent now feel comfortable being more vocal about their views on social issues.

So how do we change hearts and minds so we really can be more accepting of those whom we view as different? Facebook certainly won’t do it. For more on that see a post I wrote years ago, Why Facebook Doesn’t Change Anyone’s Opinion.

I believe it starts with relationship. When you break bread with people who are different and have conversations that aren’t intended to prove your point or disprove theirs but instead are focused on learning from another’s viewpoint, I believe you’ll start to change your opinions.

I’ll share two personal examples. The first occurred in the late 1990s when Jane and I met Ahmet, a Turkish waiter on a cruise ship. Of all the places in the world he could have ended up when he left the cruise industry he landed up in Columbus, Ohio to go to college!

Ahmet, a devote Muslim, was open to learning about my faith and I was open to learning about his. Neither of us was ready to change our deeply held religious beliefs but we formed a close friendship that I believe changed each of our views when it comes to people who have a different faith.

My second example was Jerry, someone who was brought in on a project at work. Jerry opened up over dinner to Jane and me about being gay. Our acceptance of him began to change his view of Christians and it changed our views of people in the LBGT community.

I believe each of us has racist tendencies to one degree or another. I wrote about that in I’m Racist, You’re Racist, Everyone is Racist. That fact doesn’t make all of us terrible people because much of it is conditioning from childhood. But that doesn’t mean we have to just accept it. If each of us changes just a little every day and we do it consistently we will make progress as a nation.

So what’s wrong with America? Our biggest problem is we’re a country full of human beings. We’re all flawed and deficient in many ways. It’s okay to admit that but let’s not be okay with it. Each of us can seek positive change.

This week I challenge you to strike up a conversation with someone who is different than you. When you do this just have one motive – to get to know them and understand their point of view. If you do this I hope your experience is similar to those I had with Ahmet and Jerry.

 

I’m Racist, You’re Racist, Everyone is Racist

I realize that headline might have offended some readers but I hope you’ll stay with me to the end and give thought to what I share. The subject of race is front and center in the United States now and it will not be going away any time soon. From Ferguson to Baltimore to Charleston, as a nation we’ve been confronted by the reality that despite all the strides that have been made over the last 150 years since the Civil War, racism remains alive and well.

As I’ve given thought to this I’ve come to realize I’m racist. I don’t mean to be offensive but you’re racist, too. If it makes you feel better, everyone is racist. That’s right, because to some degree we’re all racist. For just a moment think about the least racist person you can imagine. For me that person would be Jesus because He loved perfectly and paid the ultimate sacrifice in death. Now quickly think of the most racist person you can. Hitler comes to mind for me. Now consider this; we all fall somewhere on the spectrum between not racist and completely racist.

Not Racist     <================>     Completely Racist

Jesus               <================>     Hitler

Some people are overtly racist and knowingly suppress other people they believe are beneath them for no other reason than they believe their race is superior. Many people don’t actively try to harm other’s opportunities because of race but still might display attitudes that could be labeled as racist. Even some people who actively work against racial inequality, such as MSNBC’s Melissa Harris-Perry, occasionally display racially insensitive sentiments. For Harris-Perry this happened when she made comments about Mitt Romney’s adopted African-American grandson.

My best friend and best man in my wedding is Russell Barrow, an African-American. Russell have known each other for nearly 40 years and I speak to him almost every day on my drive home from work. Race is sometimes the topic of the day. I clearly remember Russell talking about his pride the day after Obama was elected president.

He never believed he’d see an African-American elected to the highest office in the land. He was surprised I remembered instances where he felt discriminated against when we were hanging out together. We’ve talked about recent incidents that raised the issue of racism (Ferguson, Baltimore, Charleston, etc.) because I want to understand his perspective.

I sat on my company’s diversity committee and have actively helped people of all ethnic backgrounds whenever I could. With African-American friends I’ve talked about issues of race over lunch and as we’ve traveled. So how can I be racist?

I say I’m racist because I know this – I’m no Jesus! I’m very aware of my response to events and my thoughts. I understand many of my thoughts are triggered at the subconscious level, which means before I can make a conscious choice the thought, belief or attitude that could be considered racist is already there. I can try to deny it or rationalize it but if I’m honest with myself I know it’s there. Why is this? Because many of our thoughts, beliefs and attitudes are a result of factors outside of our control. Consider the following reasons (by no means exhaustive) that contribute to your beliefs and attitudes:

Similarity – It’s natural for us to feel a closer bond to those we view as similar to ourselves. Evolutionarily this was a survival necessity. Those who looked like us were probably friendly and those who were different were to be potentially feared. Even though we live in vastly different times than our ancient ancestors, a time where different looking people need not be feared, we can’t help the brain wiring we already have. All we can do is recognize the beliefs and attitudes that surface but then engage our thinking to make conscious choices to behave differently.

Home Environment – Another factor is the environment we grew up in. Some of you reading this may have grown up in a mildly or an overtly racist home. For you that was normal. If you believed your parents loved you and you saw them as good people you had no reason to question their views on race or any other topics. As you grew and began to interact with different people you were exposed to new viewpoints regarding people who were different from you. Nonetheless, the beliefs that were instilled in you during your formative years die hard.

Media – Apart from your home, the environment you grew up in influences how you think. If you had little or no exposure to people who were different from you then many of your beliefs were formed by what you were exposed to via the media, friends and society at large. Here would be one simple example – how criminals are referred to quite often in the media today. Muslim criminals are terrorists, black criminals are thugs, but many white criminals who commit heinous crimes are mentally ill. What happens is we begin to stereotype those of Middle Eastern descent and blacks so all are looked upon with caution and fear. However, many people look at the white criminal as an outlier, not representative of the race as a whole. When you grow up consistently exposed to these viewpoints you harbor attitudes and beliefs without really understanding how they were formed.

If it’s true that everyone is racist to some degree (just like everyone lies or cheats to some degree), I think we can also agree that not all people are inherently bad. I mentioned earlier I don’t believe most people go out of their way to harm others even though those same people may hold beliefs some would deem racist. In fact, most people are probably unaware that many attitudes they hold would be considered racist.

So what are we to do if we want things to change?

Be open to changing longstanding beliefs and attitudes. It’s natural to want to defend your position because it’s your position and for some people admitting a belief or attitude might be racist is tantamount to admitting they’re a bad person. That’s not necessarily the case.

Don’t shut down the conversation. I’ve learned a tremendous amount in my conversations with Russell and other African-Americans I work with. I would encourage you to ask questions because some people will never bring up the subject. When I’ve initiated conversations I’ve been amazed at how much people have to say.

Engage the principle of liking. During the Principles of Persuasion Workshop I ask participants, “Does the impact of similarity or liking suggest a retreat from diversity in the workplace?” Some people think looking at similarity can hurt diversity but that would only be the case if you only looked at someone’s exterior and concluded you’re different because of how you look. The good news is studies show race and ethnicity are overwhelmed when people realize they share the same beliefs, values and attitudes with one another. After all, it’s easy to engage with someone we see as similar to ourselves because we like people who cheer for the same team, went to the same school, have the same pet, as we do, etc.

I know I was taking a risk writing about this subject but that’s okay. The problems we face won’t go away if we continue to avoid talking about them and if we’re not open to trying to understand another’s viewpoint. We may not agree on everything discussed but in the process we’re very likely to mover a little closer to each other and that will be a good first step.

Persuasion and All that Jazz

Last year I discovered the work of Ken Burns. If that name is familiar it might be because of the notoriety he gained in the early 1990s with his PBS documentaries The Civil War and Baseball. I watched both and was fascinated! In addition to those I’ve passed considerable hours on the treadmill watching his documentaries on The West, The Dustbowl, Prohibition, The War (WWII), and most recently Jazz.

In the Jazz documentary the famous musician Duke Ellington was interviewed and when asked about “the music of your people,” here is how he replied:

“My people. Which of my people? I’m in several groups. I’m in the group of piano players. I’m in the group of listeners. I’m the group of people who have general appreciation of music. I’m in the group of those who aspire to be dilettantes. I’m in the group of those who attempt to produce something fit for the plateau. I had such a strong influence by the music of the people. The people, that’s the better word because the people are my people.”

What struck me about Duke’s response was how he identified with so many different groups of people and how that undoubtedly allowed so many people to identify with him and his music.

So often when we’re asked about ourselves we limit our view to a few defined and obvious categories. Much of that is defined by what we do (I’m a fireman, I’m in sales, etc.) or our role at home (mother, father, etc.). My question to you is this: Who are you? It’s important to understand for many reasons including when it comes to persuading others. That’s so because the more broadly you see yourself, the easier it will be to invoke the principle of liking. This principle of influence tells us people prefer to say, “Yes” to those they know and like. One way you can come to like one another person and have them come to like you is by sharing what you have in common.

Here are a few ways I see myself: husband, father, son, brother, friend, businessman, salesman, influencer, trainer, coach, consultant, public speaker, reader, life-long learner, runner, weightlifter, martial artist, football fan, Ohio State Buckeye and Pittsburgh Steelers fan, Miami University and Dublin High School alumnus, Scotch lover, and child of God.

As noted earlier, the more broadly I see myself the better my opportunity to connect with people because what we have in common (similarities) become starting points for relationships. Here are a few examples.

When Ohio State beat #1 Alabama in the national championship semi-final, a game they were not expected to win, people were buzzing in Columbus. Everywhere you went it was a point of conversation and an easy way to talk to someone you didn’t know. I had a conversation with someone at a store that I can undoubtedly refer back to next time I see him.

My wife, Jane, is from Pittsburgh and isn’t shy about talking to complete strangers about the Steelers when she sees them wearing some sports logoed item. You never know where a conversation may lead in terms of friendships or connections.

When I do keynote presentations or conduct training sessions I regularly include influence stories about Jane and our daughter Abigail. Some people may not care how to influence others on the job but if they can get their spouse to take on a few more chores or get their kids to do their homework they’re all ears. Quite often people will talk to me afterwards about those personal stories, not business, because they see how persuasion can help on a personal level.

I could give many more examples but you get the point. As human beings we’re all diverse and yet in our diversity we overlap with others in many more ways than we might have thought before. Duke Ellington clearly understood that and it’s a big reason his music was so well received by so many despite the racism he experienced during his lifetime.

I encourage you to spend time thinking about who you are and the roles you have in life. That simple act could be enough for you to see more clearly what you have in common with someone else and might allow you to start forming a relationship through liking. And the good news is; if you need them to do something for you in the future, the more you’ve connected and bonded, the more they’ll like you and in turn will be more likely to say “Yes” to whatever you ask of them.

Brian Ahearn, CMCT®
Chief Influence Officer
influencePEOPLE 
Helping You Learn to Hear “Yes”.

A Better America for Ferguson and All Americans

By now everyone in the nation and most people around the world have heard about Ferguson, Mo. The death of Michael Brown and the grand jury decision not to indict officer Darren Wilson touched off protests that quickly turned into violent riots. Whether or not officer Wilson was justified in shooting Michael Brown, one thing is certain, the events of that day and the grand jury decision blew the lid off of racial tensions that have been simmering for decades.

Unfortunately for those who want to see real societal change when it comes to race, their efforts have only been set back by the riots, violence and looting that have occurred in the aftermath in Ferguson. It’s unfortunate because those who committed the acts, predominantly teens and young adults, probably don’t care about change as much as they did an opportunity to cause mayhem and steal.

When significant change took place regarding race in this country a few notable things occurred. First, in the 1960s, Americans were horrified at the treatment of blacks in the South as they watched the news and saw non-violent protestors attacked by police dogs and sprayed with fire hoses. The key was the protests were non-violent and the people didn’t deserve that kind of treatment and it repulsed most Americans.

A second, and more powerful change agent was the leader of the civil rights movement, Dr. Martin Luther King. Dr. King had a vision and a strategy that moved people to action that couldn’t be ignored. And like Mahatma Gandhi, he knew non-violence was the key.

Those two things are needed today for real change to take place. African Americans need the entire country to see the mistreatment that routinely takes place and to understand how their opportunities are much more limited than most Americans because of racial bias.

Most importantly they need a leader who can rally them as Dr. King did. Without a respected leader their movement will fail. Despite using social media to rally people, the March on Wall Street and We are the 99% movements ultimately failed because of lack of leadership. Couple that with the reality that news cycles are so much faster and people quickly forget the latest “big” story. Think about it for a moment; when was the last time you heard about the March on Wall Street or the We are the 99% movements? I can’t think of the last time either was in the news. More importantly, did any substantive change take place? No.

My personal opinion is current leaders such as Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson can’t fill the leadership role because of their contentious pasts and current public perception. Even President Barack Obama will be too polarizing to lead this cause when he leaves the White House, in my opinion.

Someone who I believe could fill that role is former General Colin Powell. He has the admiration of all Americans because of his long service to our country and his conduct as an individual. He knows how to lead, strategize, compromise, and deal with the media. He commands the kind of respect that makes people in this nation and around the world listen.

And let’s not fool ourselves into thinking the violence is only a black issue. A brief scan of history will show other groups have been involved in violent protests. For example, in New York City, the Irish (my ancestors) rioted during the Civil War when the draft was instituted. They didn’t want to go to war to free the slaves and felt the influx of blacks moving to the North would hurt their employment opportunities. One hundred people died during the New York riots. Another example comes by way of sports where we see people of all color celebrating then rioting in the streets after their teams win National Championships, World Series and Super Bowls.

But Ferguson was different because the violence we witnessed not only hurt the cause in Ferguson, it hurt the community and ultimately its citizens. Looting, damaging and destroying local businesses will put many in the community out of business for good and some jobs will be permanently lost. In an area with high unemployment they simply can’t afford that.

So, what are some influence tips to bring about change? Here are a few quick thoughts.

Rather than focus on differences, African Americans could focus on what they have in common with the rest of the nation, which is an application of the principle of liking. They need to talk about how they are mothers and fathers like many of you reading this. They’re also sons and daughters. They must remind America they want the same thing we all do – a chance at the American Dream. This should be the norm, not the exception in their communities.

Look for ways to give instead of just asking for change. By giving you engage reciprocity and people will be more inclined to give when you ask. Perform acts of kindness, volunteer in the community and encourage people to go out of their way to help others, especially those who are difference. Kindness is hard to ignore.

A strong leader like Colin Powell would engage the principle of authority because he possesses both expertise and trustworthiness when it comes to leading. Neither Al Sharpton nor Jesse Jackson has the trust of enough Americans to qualify to lead at this time.

The cause has to be bigger that just African Americans. According to U.S. Census statistics, African Americans make up slightly less than 13% of the population. Hispanics and Latinos are more than 16%. Together 30% of the population can’t be ignored. By focusing on change for all minorities and reaching out to sympathetic whites they can engage consensus. The more the average American sees the groundswell of support, similar to what’s happened with gay marriage, the more will get onboard.

Consistency is engaged by reminding all of us about the truths we hold to be self-evident in The Declaration of Independence; that all people are created equal and deserve equal opportunities. By pointing out where the system fails in this regard, it reminds us of our duty as Americans to make this a reality for all people.

The last principle to engage is scarcity. What does this country stand to lose by not affording more opportunities and fair treatment for all? We’re a nation of immigrants. Without people of all races, both genders and each nationality, we would not be the great country we are. If we limit those opportunities we limit ourselves.

Let me conclude with this. A big part of my desire to use this forum for this message comes from the fact that my best friend for nearly 40 years is African America. Russell Barrow was my best man when I got married and again when I renewed my wedding vows. You would be hard pressed to meet a nicer, more caring, giving individual than Russell. My daughter Abigail has always called him “Uncle Russell.” I’ve heard his stories of dealing with racism and seen some firsthand. In addition to Russell, I’ve had the opportunity to befriend many other African Americans through work. They’re wonderful people! For them, their families and future generations I want to see a better America and that won’t come about without change.

Brian Ahearn, CMCT®
Chief Influence Officer
influencePEOPLE 
Helping You Learn to Hear “Yes”.