Why Influencing is Better than Convincing

When people find out that I teach influencing workshops one of the first questions is sometimes "How do I convince someone to..." as though there is some magic formula to persuade people to do things that they don't want to do. There are, in fact, some manipulative techniques that let you do exactly that, but only for a short time. In the mid and long term the only way to get people to do the things that you want them to do is to influence them, which is very different.

One of the principles of effective influencing is that you should not create an idea in a vacuum then try to convince people to accept it. Instead you should let the people around you help shape the idea until it is in a form that works for you and works for them, then it is accepted willingly. 

This is effective because people are naturally reluctant to accept something unfamiliar. You might be familiar with this from the common dislike of new things which are later accepted. Every time there is a new version of Facebook, for example, many people complain. Give them time, though, and in the end they like it. They like it so much that when the next new version comes along they complain that they liked the old one -- the one that they hated when it was new.

The process or evolving your idea to be accepted also ensures that it becomes more familiar and less threatening. At the same time you discover and disarm all the objections to your idea. Sometimes a small change that makes no difference to you is extremely important for someone else and makes the difference between rejection and acceptance. In other cases just discussing the problems with other stakeholders convinces them that your idea is, in fact, better than they thought.

More generally, instead of convincing someone to accept something that you propose it is better to influence them by following these three steps:

Define your objective. First decide what it is that you want to do exactly. This is much harder than most people imagine. Often people insist on some aspect of their plan which is actually secondary. What is it that you really want? Spend some time defining the core objective, the part you must have. Once you have a clear idea of which parts of your idea are optional it becomes much easier to make it work for everyone else.

Evangelize your idea. Never try to convince someone to decide about something they just heard about. People are always doubtful about things the first time they heard about them. Familiarity breeds trust so just talking about something for a while makes it more acceptable. This means that you shouldn't present a new idea and then ask for a decision; this is a quick way to get a negative response. Instead talk about your ideas with everyone over a period of time long enough for everyone to get used to the idea. Exactly how long this is depends on how radical is the idea. When the first serious proposal for a one-way trip to Mars was aired it was considered ridiculous. Today many people consider it seriously.

Listen to feedback. Listen very carefully to all of the objections and adapt your idea to address as many of these as possible. Very often the idea can be fine-tuned to make it acceptable to more people. Make sure you also talk to adversaries; their inputs can be very helpful because people who are opposed to an idea are more likely to find real problems with your ideas. This work to refine the idea usually makes it stronger and better for everyone and at the same time these conversations reduce opposition. Most ideas are, in fact, not really ready when they are first conceived and need a concerted effort and the help of many other people to turn them into something useful.

One final word of warning: Once your idea has been accepted the influencing isn't over. Keep listening to the conversation because someone might be trying to revert the decision. Be always vigilant and don't let someone else undo your work. This is especially true if you did a poor job of bringing the opposition on board. Those opponents that you simply ignored are always there somewhere, waiting for their chance to undo your work.

Lectures, Workshops, Coaching and Writing

For lectures, workshops, one-to-one coaching and writing about influencing and other topics you can reach me by email on conseil@andrewhennigan.com, by phone on 0033 6 79 61 42 81 or 0046 730 894 475 or through my website http://andrewhennigan.com


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