Networking: Section 9 - Exerting Influence and Gaining Compliance Part 3

The power of direct command 

If someone is uncertain they will hesitate. If you give a direct command, they will often comply. At an accident don’t just cry, “Won’t somebody please do something!” Point at a specific person and say: “You. Go call an ambulance.” 

 The typical routine for handling a product demonstration involves giving some very specific guidance to the hostess. You explain the routine of introducing you and passing around the sign-in sheet. (That’s another example. You just tell everyone to make an entry for themselves and they usually do.)  

Afterwards you have the previous hostess go with you to the next presentation sponsored by her friend and say a few words. Before long, she is giving her own presentations and training her own people. No muss, no fuss. It’s just how things are done. 

 When we switched away from accepting checks for phone orders, we discovered that the best way to handle the situation was to not raise the issue. Now we just ask which credit card will be used. This combines an indirect command (“use a credit card”) with the opportunity to make a choice. Frankly, it works very well. 

 Studies have shown that 95% of people are basically imitators (followers) and that only 5% are initiators (leaders). When a follower is not sure what to do next, they are very open to the influence of their group and especially to the group leader… or even someone who just seems very sure of themself. 

 Everyone likes to be liked 

It’s hard to resist when a friend asks you to do something. By extension, it’s even hard to resist a stranger who seems to be likable (such as a Girl Scout with a smile and cookies).  

People who look good automatically seem more honest, kind and intelligent. This goes double for tall men and pretty girls. Those of us who are funny-looking, bald and squeaky-voiced simply have to work harder to make a good impression. Happily, when people do decide to like me, it’s easier to believe that it’s not just my stunning hair and dazzling smile. 

 It is also easier for people to like others who seem familiar or are similar to themselves. (Happily, working together for a common purpose builds familiarity.) It helps if you are the same age, have the same background or dress the same way. It’s a smart move to subtly imitate the body postures and speaking rhythms of someone if you want them to like you a little better. 

 I like to be liked. I’ll really go out of my way to please someone who really appreciates my efforts. When someone is grumpy, demanding and unappreciative, I just can’t seem to get as excited. Somehow I expect my labors will turn into another instance of “no good deed goes unpunished.” 

 We tend to believe compliments and especially love to hear ourselves being praised to a third party. Don’t hesitate to be an encouraging person who is quick to offer positive comments.  

If you tend to complain or be critical, do everything in your power to stop that behavior. Complaining represents the combination of anger and impotence (lack of control). Neither of these are not attractive or constructive to yourself or others.  

Also, as my wife, Dianna, has pointed out, “it takes at least seven positive things to counter any negative thing that you say.” Dianna was still an elementary school teacher at the time. She practiced this principal every day and it is no wonder that her students adored her. She mentioned this after I made a critical comment to her. She demanded that I immediately produce seven positive comments. I like to think that I have been more positive ever since. 

“A beautiful thing happens when we start paying attention to each other. It is by participating more in your relationship that you breathe life into it.”  
― Steve Maraboli, Unapologetically You: Reflections on Life and the Human Experience 

Compulsive response to authority 

We have all been trained to color within the lines, do what the teacher says and obey policemen. We will often do what the boss wants even if we dislike doing it. 

 This normally useful response can become our most frightening social reflex. Strong leaders and governmental authorities have used their power of authority to influence armies and ordinary citizens to perform hideous atrocities against others and even voluntarily commit suicide. Think of Hitler, Jim Jones and terrorist organizations. 

 Part of the reason for the influence of authority (or even the appearance of authority) is our assumption that they know more than we do. Another aspect is their control of our rewards and punishment. Authoritarianism is also a natural psycho-social stage of development. 

Bob Altemeyer, a psychologist, conducted decades of research that made him an established expert on authoritarianism. His book, The Authoritarians can be found online as a free PDF file if you are interested in learning more. 

 A practical example of mechanical, blind obedience to authority is the medical establishment. People routinely sign a release statement when entering a hospital (even for minor, non-invasive tests) that basically says that the doctors may do whatever they want to you. This is a mirror of the blind faith of generations of patients who meekly (and ignorantly) accepted whatever drugs or surgeries were prescribed (including bleeding and administration of mercury). Hospital staffs are subject to a long tradition of submission to doctors’ orders.  

 Get it while you can 

“This is your last chance. If you act soon and for a limited time only, while supply lasts, and if your entry is drawn, you can be one of the exclusive few to win a rare original.” 

 It’s easy to assume that if something is difficult to get, it is more valuable. We will camp out in a ticket line, pay extra for signed and numbered limited editions and inventory close-out sales. I love auctions and liquidation sales. I’ll buy stuff I don’t need. What if I want it later and I can’t get it? 

Also, for what it’s worth, we hate to lose our freedom of choice. When information is censored or hard to get, it can seem more persuasive.  

 Because there is a reason 

You ask someone to do something. They hesitate. You say “because” and tell them why they should. They agree to do it. This doesn’t just work with very small children. What happened? It may be more than your persuasive argument. “Everything has to have a reason” and people are influenced simply because there is a reason. Researchers have discovered that many people will comply if you use the word “because,” even without a reason. It’s kind of scary. 

 The best defenses against exploitation 

The best way to protect yourself against being manipulated by these social triggers is two-fold. You must be aware of these methods and you must be aware of your gut feelings. When you notice that something feels wrong, stop in your tracks and refuse to respond further until you have figured out what is going on. 

 Are you vulnerable? Are you stressed, distracted, tired or rushed? If you are, you are more likely to make these automatic shortcuts to decision-making. These days we are assaulted by more information and are under pressure to do more in less time. Knowledge is growing explosively and access to that knowledge is growing even faster. We can communicate instantly and have many times the choices of earlier generations. We get used to making snap decisions based on minimal direct evidence. 

 When you notice that funny feeling in your stomach and realize that you are becoming emotionally involved in a decision, stop to decide why. Someone may be pushing your triggers. This might actually be a good thing. In this fast-paced world we need shortcuts for decision-making. But when someone falsely misrepresents the facts to get your compliance, it’s okay to “JUST SAY NO.” 

 Creating change 

People tend to resist change. They are used to old patterns and relationships and can feel threatened. Their negative emotional responses can make it hard to create change even when it is obviously in their best interest. Here are techniques to help: 

Create a vacuum — “Nature abhors a vacuum.” So does human nature. Dismantle or discard the old system. This makes physical or logical room for the new. 

When we needed to move our shipping department to the store, I took the initiative to remove everything from the new space that would be used. That made it easier for my staff to “fill the hole.” 

The same thing works when you need to clean up and get organized. I find that the first thing to do is throw out all the stuff that can be discarded. Next, you take out all the stuff that doesn’t belong; it should go somewhere else. By that time, there is usually enough empty space to begin organizing items that need to stay. 

Create the initial framework yourself — Leaders need to express their vision. If you do enough of the preliminary work for others to see and understand where you’re going, it is easier to delegate the completion of the work. Your people will feel like they’re stepping on rocks rather than wading through mud. 

In my engineering work, I sometimes needed to collect information from others. It could be like pulling teeth. I discovered that, if I preprinted the forms with the information that was already known, people were much more willing to make corrections or add missing information.

Don’t we all hate going to a professional service provider and being asked to provide information redundantly on multiple forms – especially when you know that they already have most of it on their computers. We wouldn’t do it if we didn’t feel like we simply had to. 

Perhaps you want to ask your managers to start sending out their own monthly newsletters or you want distributors to be more comfortable holding meetings. If you supply the initial framework to get them started, it will be easier for them to get past the “inventing the wheel” stage. Give them a copy of your word processing template, ready for them to fill in the empty spaces. Provide a demonstration kit or at least lists, sample forms and a speaking outline. 

Create an artificial crisis — If you just have to get something moving, cause an emergency. People will work hard to get things back under control even if that requires accepting a changed situation. If your teenager won’t take his dirty clothes to the laundry, just let clothes accumulate until he has nothing clean to wear. When this artificial crisis finally gets his attention, you can persuade him to begin washing his own clothes. Of course, he can create his own crisis by doing it so badly that you decide to go back to doing it yourself. Some ideas do backfire. 

Managing change 

Resistance to change is normal and can even be positive; it shows that people are involved and care about the situation. Listen sincerely to objections. Just letting people express their feelings can diffuse resistance. However, their challenges might also lead to improvements to the original plan. The resulting dialogue can improve communication and cooperation. 

Communicate — Help people understand why you have decided on the change. Fear, uncertainty and doubt (the “FUD” factor) can be quickly neutralized by your courtesy of explaining the needs and benefits that led to your decision. 

Involve others — People will usually support a change that they’ve helped to plan and execute. Why should you do all the work just to run into a brick wall? 

Plant the idea and cultivate it — Try to avoid ramming a change down someone else’s throat. It you start early, and are patient, you can actually plant and direct the gradual development of your idea so that others think that it is their own. Then, when they “own” the desire to change, it is much easier to let them run with it and adjust their direction slightly as needed. Who says there isn’t a little Sun Tzu or Machiavelli in us all? 

Rewards and benefits — Everyone affected by a change needs to feel that there’s “something in it” for them. If they don’t, maybe it’s a bad move and really should be resisted. The timing may be off or it may actually create additional burdens without sufficient benefits. 

p.s. “Change happens.”