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Natalie Cooper



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The art of influencing and making your ideas stick


1. Steve Martin on influence & communication

Steve Martin is fascinated by the science of decision making and the power of influence. He explains: “I’m not interested in what people tell me they want to do; I’m interested in how they act.”
He also states that information alone as an attempt to influence clients, employees and stakeholders, is not enough.
“On average, there are 17 hundred attempts per day to catch our attention. That’s three attempts for every waking hour,” states Martin. “Consider in a day we are inundated with email, radio, TV, bosses, employees, magazines. We are enveloped in a sea of information.”

Six key influencing behaviours
So how can you influence people and their behaviour? According to Martin, there are six principles of influence: reciprocity, scarcity, authority, liking, social proof and consistency.
1. Reciprocity
Every culture and society abides by the rule of reciprocation (give and take). If someone does you a favour, you immediately feel you owe them a favour. We do not take without giving in return. This is human nature. We have names for people who don’t play by the rules; bankers, inbreeds, selfish, freeloaders.
Reciprocity is about giving first. People will genuinely say yes to you if you’ve done something for them first. When we’re looking to influence, we normally ask ourselves the question: ‘who can help me achieve my goal?’. It’s the wrong question. You should be asking instead: ‘who can I help first, and who can I give advice and assistance to?’
You’re most persuasive after someone thanks you. In that moment, your knee jerk reaction is to say: ‘no problem, I’m happy to help.’ This builds networks and trust, and is your moment of influence. If you want to get them to agree to something or return a favour, this is when you should position your most important message to them.
  • Concessions tip: Remember that people are also more likely to say yes immediately after they’ve just said no. When you present them with a big ask, and they say no, downgrade the ask, and say, ‘could you do this instead,’ they are more likely to agree to the lesser ask.
  • Example: When it comes to writing proposals and presenting options. Don’t take options off the table that you think they will reject. Propose something that you think they are going to say no to, but make sure that the bigger request is realistic, genuine and authentic.
  • Requests tip: Make your requests significant, personalised and unexpected.
  • Example: Don’t just email reports. Write a hand written note rather than a bloodless email. People are more likely to pay attention, listen and reciprocate more.
2. Scarcity
The use of loss language can be powerful. When information is presented in loss rather than gain, it becomes more attractive. Think of the advertising slogan: ‘Yorkie, it’s not for girls’. Instead of saying: ‘Do these three things and it will save you £150, position it instead as: ‘By failing to attend to these three things, you will lose £150’.
Nothing is different, apart from the way the information has been altered and the way it’s presented.
3. Authority
We often fall in line with someone we see as a credible expert, which consists of being knowledgeable and trustworthy. So how do you build credibility?
Trust needs to be earned, but people are looking for instant trust and credibility so tell your clients, customers or employees that you’re a knowledgeable expert and deliver on your promises.
Admit a weakness first, albeit a small one:
  • We won’t be able to help everyone
  • This might not be right for you (i.e. Marmite, you either love it or hate it)
Also, if you tell your stakeholders that your employees are credible, your staff will play up to those labels.
4. Liking
  • Similarities: I feel like I’ve known this person for years. In the early stages people look to identify something in common.
  • Compliments: We’re more likely to be flattered by someone who pays us compliments, even when we know they aren’t true, so pay compliments more to those people you want to influence more.
  • Cooperative efforts: If you find someone irksome, or you always dread meeting that person, look for something praiseworthy in them. It could be a genuine feature, belief or value that you can praise them on. It’s a brave and smart thing to do. Who knows, you may start to like that person more.
5. Social proof
We all look to people to help us make a decision. If you go on holiday to somewhere new – on your first evening when you’re looking to go out for dinner, you feel uncertain which restaurant to go to and you’re overwhelmed with choice, you will look to other holidaymakers.
If a restaurant is busy, you will make a judgement based on where other holidaymakers like you have chosen to dine out.
Which of the following statements ensures more people will buy a product on a shopping channel at the end of the product plug?
Shopping channel plug example:
  • ‘Lines are open, call now’
  • ‘If lines are busy, call again’
The answer is a. Instead of thinking that the lines are busy and this will cause an inconvenience, it has the opposite effect. It makes people buy more because it sounds more desirable when other people like them want that product.
6. Consistency
Be consistent in your messaging to all stakeholders; customers, employees and peers.
The benefits of cross-functional exposure:
  • Better HR understanding: Spending time in HR allows other line managers to understand the value the function brings to the organisation.
  • New perspectives: HR professionals have first-hand insight of the complexities of the whole organisation. You can add a valuable viewpoint to the new departments you operate in.
  • Potential future leaders: For businesses whose main asset is people and the knowledge and intellectual capital that come with them, appointing a CEO who can combine the necessary commercial and strategic influence with the proven people skills of an HR background can be of great value.
  • Succession planning: If an organisation grows rapidly or faces challenges, there should be a group of employees able to turn their hand to more than one function, allowing risk to be managed more effectively.
  • Commercial awareness: HR functions best operate when the business is their first priority and HR is second. When those in HR leadership roles gain hands-on exposure to P&L, financial processes etc, they develop their own commercial skill set and develop first-hand knowledge of the broader business agenda.
2. Dan Heath on making ideas stick
“How do you make an idea stick and know if it has been understood, remembered and if it makes people act? The impact of a message is not always quantifiable,” says Heath.
Think of urban legends and fables which contain moral truths, proverbs and are passed from generation to generation such as Aesop’s ‘the tortoise and the hare’, to JFK’s ‘Man on the Moon’ speech. These are all memorable stories.
Heath’s SUCCES model
Heath has coined the ‘SUCCES Model’ to make an idea ‘stick’. His acronym which stands for:
  • Simple
  • Unexpected
  • Credible
  • Concrete
  • Emotional
  • Stories
1. Simple
Is your idea ‘simple’? Heath does not mean the dumbing down of a concept, but rather finding the core of your idea and communicating it in a way that is clear and compact. He talks about the inverted pyramid. He uses the analogy of a journalist writing a news story. It has a short, punchy and clear headline.
The first paragraph contains the most important facts and core messages. Use this pyramid to prioritise the key messages you need to communicate.
2. Unexpected
Sticky ideas are surprising, attention grabbing and defy our expectations. The element of surprise throws us off guard. The emotion of surprise is universal across all cultures. When we’re surprised, we raise our eyebrows, our eyes widen and our mouths gape. You want your idea to cause a surprise reaction.
He talks about the concept of violating a schema; ‘crystallising’ an idea and then ‘breaking’ it. For example, predict what people imagine when they think of London and crystalise it in your mind i.e. Tower of London, the Queen, Buckingham Palace, Big Ben etc and what this represents (tradition, history).
Now, violate this schema and break it. Instead visualise London’s green parks, zoos and wildlife, or the Google building and imagine presenting London as a green space or fast paced technical city. It paints a very different picture and causes an element of surprise.
3. Credible
Where does credibility come from? Why should we believe whether someone or something is credible or not? For example, if someone’s a real wine buff, how do you know that they are an expert? It’s because they will tell us very vivid details to make us believe they have knowledge that we don’t.
So in the corporate world, how do you build credibility with your customers or clients? If you have a product for example, let them see it for themselves. If you’re providing a service, provide testimonials; let your customers tell their own success story using your services or products. This adds credibility.
4. Concrete
How do you make data stick? Numbers don’t stick but relationships do. The curse of knowledge – algebra example:
Escape from the curse of knowledge. When you’re an expert in your field, you have a wonderful gift but translating it often confuses the messaging. You may be an algebra teacher and want to encourage more students to take this up as a study option.
However when a group of algebra teachers were asked to communicate the merits of it in simple terms, they got caught up in analytical and mathematical speech and re-spun it again in mathematical language that still made it sound geeky. Exactly what they were trying to avoid.
However one teacher told a story about a student that asked: ‘When will I ever need to use algebra again?’ The teacher explained: ‘Why do you lift weights at the gym? It’s not because you’ll ever find yourself under a bus and need to lift it off, it’s because you want to get stronger."
The teacher continued: ‘It’s unlikely you will ever need to use algebra equations again, but just like the gym, algebra is like mental weight training. It’s training your brain to get stronger for your future’.
5. Emotional
What’s In It For You. What are the sticky ideas that make people care? In the state of Texas, there was a littering problem and the main culprits were young men. So the state had to come up with a campaign that would catch the attention of young Texan men and stop them from polluting.
The campaign was called ‘Bubba’ and the slogan used was: ‘Don’t mess with Texas’. Texan men happen to be very patriotic and so in the campaign, Texan role models were used to communicate a powerful message to those young Texan men that looked up to them.
‘By littering Texas you are dishonouring your own state’. In one year, litter was down 25% and subsequently it went down by 75%. The ‘Don’t mess with Texas’ campaign can be used as your blueprint when trying to change behaviour. In this situation the campaign organisers asked the questions:
  • Who am I?
  • What kind of situation is this?
  • What do people like me do in this situation?
6. Stories
Stories spark action. In corporate culture, most managers immediately reach for incentives to inspire and motivate people but what does it mean to be a proud employee in your organisation? We often squander powerful stories worthy of attention.
Stories are contagious, so if you encourage powerful stories that demonstrate the right kind of behaviours, it sets a benchmark and precedent. Everyone will aspire and live up to those behaviours, so you have to make employee success stories visible within your organisation.
It’s a tangible and free way to snowball corporate identity and create the culture that you want.

Natalie Cooper is the editor of our partner, online jobs board, Changeboard, which first published this article.
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