Influence: Dealing with the Unexpected

Back in the days when GPS navigators were almost unknown in vehicles I had to produce a video showing how they were used. With an employee of the vendor at the wheel and a video camera operator in the front passenger seat we drove around for a while, following the spoken route instructions.

"Turn left", the navigator would say, and we turned left.                          
"Turn right", the navigator said, and we turned right.

But then I asked. "What happens if we disobey the instructions?". Apparently nobody had asked that question before. The driver had no idea. "Let's try!".

So the next time the voice said "Turn left" he completely ignored it, driving straight ahead. I half expected an angry voice to tell us we had missed the turn, but no. There was just a moment of silence then it just said calmly "Turn right".  Unfazed, it had recalculated a new route starting from the new position.

With hindsight this seems like a sensible way to handle the problem, but it made me realize that humans could learn from this machine. When things don't go as planned people often get angry, try to blame people and focus on the mistake rather than how to solve it. These are very human responses but not the best way to solve problems.

This is useful in any leadership situation and is one of the techniques I have often taught in leadership workshops, but it is also a useful way for dealing with the unexpected in any influencing effort. If you have ever attended one of my influencing workshops you would know already that you should be planning your influencing in advance. But even with the best plans and even with some planned alternates, there can still be times when there is a completely unexpected twist. When that happens remember the voice of the navigator.

Your starting point has changed or perhaps the destination has changed, but what you need to do quickly is to work out a new influencing strategy starting from the new conditions and start executing on that. Don't waste time getting angry, throwing blame or doing a post mortem -- that can wait until later, if ever. And most of all stay calm, take a deep breath and just keep going, like the satellite navigator that has a brain the size of a fingernail but never gets angry.

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