Tuesday, January 4, 2011

How to Influence People

However much it thinks it owes to psychology, traditional psychotherapy has never said anything relevant or interesting about how to influence other people.

Therapy has traditionally promoted a self-involved, introspective mindset and thus has ignored the kinds of issues that concern leaders, managers, and coaches.

In the old days therapists pretended that they were respecting everyone’s personal autonomy and would never try to influence anyone to do anything at all.

They imagined that patients would have flashes of insight in which they would discover what they really, really wanted. The theory told them that when an idea appeared in a flash of insight it belonged wholly to the patient.

They were wrong. How many times have you suggested something to someone, only to have it rejected out of hand? And how many times has the same person, a few months later, announced that he just had a new idea, an idea that came to him spontaneously, that is his and his alone, but that is exactly the same as the one you had suggested before?

Therapists have been so married to the fiction of individual autonomy that they failed to notice that people are always offering us advice and guidance. The goal for human adults is not to free themselves from influence, but to learn how to evaluate different suggestions and to choose the best one.

As long as therapy ignores this aspect of human behavior, it will continue to produce self-indulgent narcissists.

By now someone is thinking that, in truth, therapists really do aspire to exert influence over their patients. Their protestations of innocence are really covering a darker purpose.

However much therapist avoid any suggestion about what a patient should or should not do, therapists do want fervently to control their patients’ minds. They want their patients to think the right thoughts and to feel the right feelings.

To take an obvious example, no one was ever said to be cured by Freudian psychoanalysis if he did not become a true believing Freudian.

Out in the real world, you will need to learn how to manage, to lead, and to coach. All of these involve persuading people to do what needs to be done, because, as Dwight Eisenhower said, they want to do it.

The business world is not about enhancing your self-esteem and helping you to feel good about yourself. It is about how well the job gets done.

If you are managing or leading or coaching, your goal should be to bring out the best in your people, to induce them to do the best job.

According to Harold Scharlatt you can do it even if you do not have a lot of authority. Link here.

Here’s his defining point: “Influence is, simply put, the power and ability to personally affect others' actions, decisions, opinions or thinking. At one level, it is about compliance, about getting someone to go along with what you want them to do. But you often need genuine commitment from others to accomplish key goals and tasks.”

Scharlatt wants to study how you, as a manager, can move people from “resistance to compliance to commitment.”

He emphasizes situations where your authority is limited, but I believe that your authority is always more limited than you think.

Most people tend to resist the counsel of others. They are correctly hesitant to do what you say just because you say it.

A leader needs to overcome that resistance to produce compliance. But that is not enough. He also needs to persuade his staff to work their hardest and their best to ensure that the policy or the plan or the strategy will be implemented successfully.

Here’s how Scharlatt recommends that you go about it.

First, you need to command your brief. You need to know what you are talking about; you need to persuade everyone that you have grasped all the details of the situation; you need to present your decision in terms of facts and information; you need to have considered all other options and objections; and you need to reference what is best for the company.

You cannot impose a new plan on the grounds that it feels right or good, or because you proposed it, or because you  hope it will work.

Within the leadership/management/coaching paradigm confidence is not about having confidence in yourself, but about how much confidence you have in others.

When a good leader presents a new plan, he must show that he is fully confident that his staff can implement it. He might even suggest that they should try to improve on it.

A new plan should not be a take-it-or-leave-it proposal.

How do you show confidence in others? By giving them the maximum latitude to do their jobs as they see fit.

You cannot do it by criticizing them and finding fault with their performance. Nor can you do it by telling them that they are great when they are not.

And certainly you cannot do it not by micromanaging the project, looking over their shoulder, communicating an anxious anticipation of all the mistakes they are going to make.

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