How You Can Better Influence People


One of the most popular programs we offer at Xavier is called Influencing Without Authority, taught by professors Rocco and Denise Dal Vera (from the College Conservatory of Music at the University of Cincinnati) and Annie Fitzpatrick, their teaching colleague. There is something about this title that seems to capture people’s attention. It certainly strikes a chord with our clients. There is no doubt that people are challenged by the need to gain cooperation with others or departments over which they have little control or authority.  Consider for example that you are assigned to direct a team trying to implement a new system, and the team to which you’re assigned would prefer if things stayed as they are. No easy task for even the savviest individual.

Influencing Without Authority focuses on an array of concepts to help understand how human being’s emotional and psychological states influence their behaviors as well as how we can recognize these behaviors in others. In learning to doing so, we can alter our own approach when exercising influence, and increase the likelihood of a positive outcome.

The program draws on the knowledge from the field of Neuro-linguistic programming (NLP), an approach to communication, personal development, and psychotherapy created in the 1970s. The title refers to a stated connection between our thought processes (“neuro”),how we speak (“linguistic”) and behavioral patterns that have been learned through experience (“programming”).

I must say, this topic fascinates me as did the 2009-11 Fox TV show called Lie to Me, which featured two annoying but brilliant psychologists who could read micro-messages–namely body language and facial expressions–in ways that assisted police investigators in solving crimes.

Though we may not be brilliant psychologists ourselves, our ability to interpret how people are feeling and thinking can be highly useful in mapping our own personal strategies for interacting with them to achieve better outcomes.

Not only does a reading people’s expression help us to understand them, but appreciating their emotional states can also be important.   Therefore, Influencing Without Authority also teaches means of dealing with problematic personalities by understanding what may be blocking someone’s willingness to cooperate with us. I believe this unwillingness to cooperate often occurs when one’s core needs remain unfulfilled.

Others agree with me. I came across a related article on this topic called How You Can Better Influence People, by Robert Pagliarini. He is a fan of human needs psychology promoted By Tony Robbins. Pagliarini asserts that by understanding fundamental human needs and then learning to recognize these needs in people, you will be equipped with new insights that allow you to win over people by recognizing what it is they want.

Robbins argues that humans are driven by these six basic needs:

  1. Certainty – the need to be safe and comfortable
  2. Variety – the need for physical and mental stimulation
  3. Significance – the need to feel special and worthy of attention
  4. Love & Connection – the need to be loved and connected to others
  5. Growth – the need to develop and expand
  6.  Contribution – the need to contribute beyond yourself

A big idea to keep in mind is that until we feel these needs are being sufficiently met in us, we will not likely be at our best. When needs remain unfulfilled in us, this leads to frustration that may manifest in various social behaviors that others would find problematic–like not being willing to cooperate with others. We all have met challenging people who may not, at their core be so, but are acting out of their lack of personal fulfillment.

So, if we want to establish rapport with such people and win their trust, respecting their basic needs, being empathetic, or even acting in ways that fulfill them can go a long way toward winning them over.

Now consider, for a moment, a time when you have encountered an individual whose cooperation you sought, but they were unwilling to give it.   Did they seem to have a “bad attitude”? Were they initially resistant to you? Did they tell you they had no time, and couldn’t possibly help you with your project, and no other people from their department are available either?   Yet, you needed their expertise, and buy-in.  It was frustrating, no doubt.  Feeling hopeless, did you consider going to that person’s boss to see if you could apply some pressure from above to get the assistance you need? How did that work out for you? Probably not so great.

Now did you ever consider an alternate strategy?

Did you think about trying to understand the reasons why the person you contacted was seemingly unhelpful, even rude?   Often when one or more of our basic needs remains unmet, this can cause frustration, cynicism, and even anger that translates into various anti-social behaviors at work.   Understanding that and approaching the person differently just might help you break through and change their attitude.   If you knew, for example that SIGNIFICANCE was an unmet need, before asking another to cooperate with you on your project; you might first mention that you came to him or her because you see he or she as a highly regarded person with unique expertise in their discipline – thus fulfilling the unmet need. You might gain more cooperation by citing some examples of things you observed in him or her that you found noteworthy.

By feeding these important needs, we can sometimes create a willingness to cooperate with us that would not normally reveal itself.

So, this begs the question, “How do I learn what the other person’s unmet needs are?”

Here is what Pagliarini describes (attributed to Mark Peysha, CEO of the Robbins-Madanes Coaching Company):

1. Ask them. This is obviously the most straightforward approach. People are fascinated by the concept of the six human needs, and they love an opportunity to talk about what matters most to them and how they perceive what’s important.

2. Observe what they focus on. Is the person focused on safety and comfort, or are they more driven by the need to stand out? Do they seem to crave connection, or do they crave variety and entertainment? Listen to what they communicate and watch for what they value. You can learn a lot by the process of elimination.

3. Contextual. It’s best to observe someone in more than one environment. When people go into certain situations, you can learn a great deal from how they respond — their top needs will often rise to the surface.

Some of you might argue that you shouldn’t have to do all this “extra” work to get people to cooperate with you at work. You might argue “isn’t it part of their job to cooperate?”

Fair enough, but in the imperfect world in which most of us work, it might make sense to consider how you can start seeing things more through the eyes of others, and adapt YOUR approach in response. Consider that before focusing on what YOU want, it just might make a lot of sense to concentrate on identifying how you can help someone else first. If meeting your objectives matters, this might be the quicker path to success.

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