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How to Have More Influence

Have you ever been in a meeting where two people were arguing for different sides of a proposal? 
Sometimes one person dominates the time, giving a long list of arguments, yet the other person, who speaks briefly, wins the debate.
How could that be? You might have witnessed a surprising element of influence in communication: the dilution effect.
Put simply, the dilution effect says that when you’re trying to influence people with communication, you should focus on quality over quantity.
This is the conclusion of Niro Sivanathan, an associate professor of organizational behavior at London Business School. His research explores how the psychology of the self – specifically our motivation to maintain the integrity of the self – influences our decision making.
I’m drawing these comments and examples from his excellent TED Talk in London earlier this year, which I’ve linked at the end.
Quality over quantity
Sivanathan did his own experiments and reviewed other research to draw a simple conclusion: “What this body of research tells us is that in the world of communicating for the purposes of influence, quality trumps quantity. 
“By increasing the number of arguments you do not strengthen your case, but rather you actively weaken it. You cannot increase the quality of your argument by simply increasing the quantity of your argument,” he said.
Let me give an example of his research as a pop quiz for you:
Tim studies 31 hours a week outside of class.
Tom studies 31 hours a week outside of class. 
Has a brother and two sisters. 
Often visits his grandparents
Once went on a blind date
Shoots pool every two months.
Which student do you think has a higher grade point average? Tim or Tom?
Most people would say Tim has a significantly higher grade point average, according to Sivanathan’s research.
Why would we view Tim as the stronger student when they both study the same 31 hours per week? It’s because we’ve seen more information about Tom, which dilutes the relevant information that he studies just as long.
We average the information
Our minds don’t add all the facts together, but rather average the information. “So when you introduce irrelevant or even weak arguments…they reduce the weight of your overall argument,” Sivanathan says.
In his technical terms, Dr. Sivanathan outlines diagnostic and non-diagnostic categories of information. Diagnostic is information relevant to the evaluation, or decision, you’re trying to make.

Non-diagnostic is information irrelevant or inconsequential to that evaluation, such as Tom shooting pool and visiting his grandparents.
When both categories are mixed, dilution occurs, which decreases the value and weight of the relevant information. 
I know that’s kind of wonky, but it’s basically saying less is more. Give your best arguments and stop talking!
In another great example, Sivanathan tells the story of arriving in the United States for a conference and turning on the television to deal with jet lag. He saw the dilution effect at work on a TV ad for a drug. 
In the U.S., pharma companies advertise drugs with long commercials showing people in ordinary daily activities. They are required by law to list the side effects of the drug.
Sivanathan noticed, and ultimately proved through research, that the drug companies use the dilution effect to make people more open to liking the drug and paying higher prices. 
They do this by structuring the list of side effects to minimize their impact. In other words, the companies list sides effects such as possible heart attack, stroke, cancer, rash and itchy feet.
By adding “rash and itchy feet” they dilute the risk evaluation of more serious side effects and illnesses, according to his research.
Sivanathan applies this lesson of the dilution effect to all of us in our high-stakes communication in business and life:
This has important implications for how we can craft and mold our messages to have the impact we all desire: to be more influential as a communicator.
The next time you want to speak up at a meeting, speak in favor of government legislation that you’re passionate about, or simply want to help a friend see the world through a different lens, it is important to note that the delivery of your message is every bit as important as its content.
Stick to your strong arguments because your arguments don’t add up in the mind of the receiver they average out.
How about you?
Next time you’re in a meeting or conversation where influence is being attempted, observe who directly focuses on relevant information and who overloads people with irrelevant information.
When you’re trying to influence people, remember to bring your best arguments, then stop talking, because less is more.
Communicate less to influence more.
Do you have comments for me? Just visit my contact page to talk with me now.


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Link to Dr. Niro Sivanathan’s TED Talk 
Photo by Evangeline Shaw on Unsplash

Woman CEO's Advice: Learnto Be Uncomfortable

I liked challenging people and making them uncomfortable. That’s what leads to introspection and that’s what leads to improvement. You could say I dared people to be their best selves.

–– Kobe Bryant, Basketball Great

I was speaking to about 100 leaders in California last year and urged the women in the audience to be more willing to step up for opportunities, as the guys do. A woman senior leader asked me whether I really believed that women don’t take enough risk for opportunities. 

From her smile I could read she was throwing me a softball challenge and wanted me to elaborate. I gave an example of a job that may be two levels up. In my experience a woman will give an honest assessment of her strengths and weaknesses and might conclude that she might be 80 percent ready. A dude might say, “I’ve got this.”  

It was a laugh line, but true. It’s a generalization so it’s not 100 percent, but it’s a real issue.

Youngest Female CEO

With this in mind, I was taken by an interview on CNBC last week with Corie Barry, who in June became Best Buy’s first female chief executive. 

At 44 years old, Barry is the youngest woman CEO in the Fortune 100, and one of only 27 female CEOs in the S&P 500, according to Catalyst.

In the interview, Barry gave other women in business the advice to “make yourself uncomfortable, and to take sometimes, the jobs no one else wants.”

In some 20 years at the consumer electronics retailer, Barry had 15 jobs, including president of Geek Squad Services and chief financial officer.

Growing your skill set

“My career path is anything but linear,” she said. “I spent time in finance. I spent time actually living and working in the field in retail. I spent time running services. I started our strategic growth office. I’ve had the chance to run our technology teams. The goal for me…is about breadth and about understanding and growing that skill set as much as possible.”

Barry’s message to other women is to “speak up with the point of view in the room that may not be popular. Have those uncomfortable moments. Because my strong personal belief is it is those moments that cause you to grow the most yourself, but that also differentiate you the most in your career.”

She says history and studies show that on the whole women will wait until they are “perfectly ready” for the next role, but she said it more broadly applies to all genders. 

Make yourself uncomfortable

“People want this level of confidence that frankly just isn’t possible in business, which is why I say, start with making yourself uncomfortable because somewhere in here you’re going to have to be willing to put yourself into a space that you don’t quite feel ready to fill and then leverage all the resources around you to help you be successful.”

I have a close family member who was a Navy SEAL. He introduced me to one of their most useful training phrases, “Get comfortable with being uncomfortable.”

It’s what I tell all of my clients. Your most valuable growth happens just outside of your comfort zone. With the magnitude of change in business and the world, learning to be comfortable with discomfort may be your most important skill.

How about you?

Think about it: What opportunities have you let pass by because you didn’t feel “perfectly ready”?

Start considering how you can say “yes” to discomfort in your business and personal lives. 

Your key to success may well be feeling comfortable with discomfort.

To talk with me directly, just visit my contact page.

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(Photo Credit: Best Buy)

Warning: CBD is Bad for Your Health

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, Courage to change the things I can, and the Wisdom to know the difference.

–– Alcoholics Anonymous Serenity Prayer

Most of the large companies I work with are undergoing tremendous change. During the pre-briefing for a recent workshop a leader told me there had been a fair amount of complaining about the changes and hoped that I could help bring some perspective. 

By the way, this situation describes most of my clients so don’t think I’m talking about your company…unless I am. ;-)

Reviewing my deck that night, I decided to create a slide that said:


Of course, in the morning those leaders, like you, thought I meant the increasingly popular CBD, Cannabidiol, the marijuana/hemp derivative which is said to create a sense of calm and well-being.

My prescription is different, but can also give you a sense of calm and well being. My full slide read:


No Complaining

No Blaming

No Defensiveness

These three behaviors, complaining, blaming and defensiveness, are what we revert to when we are under stress. When we feel threatened by change in our business or personal lives, we often take solace in verbalizing our misery: we complain about the changes, we blame other people, we defend ourselves and our egos.

As leaders, we must avoid CBD at all cost. For leaders today, our number one job is to lead people through constant change. Some researchers posit that the pace of change today is the slowest we will see in our lives.

All of these CBD behaviors, while maybe providing momentary ego relief, have zero positive effects. In fact, they often have negative effects: dragging other people down; increasing the negativity in your workplace; or even being counter productive, making the effects of change worse.

Complaining everywhere 

And this doesn’t only happen in the workplace. People carry convenience-sized CBD with them wherever they go. When I’m on the road across America I have easy access to the best sociological research laboratories to study human behavior: Starbucks, restaurants and airplanes.

What I hear, when I take off my noise-cancelling headphones, is people ripping their colleagues, their companies and their situations.

In some companies, teams spend time fighting one another, wasting time and energy, instead of fighting their competitors.

For some people, complaining is a way of life, blaming others in good times and bad. For most of us, we can fall into this pattern under stress, sometimes not realizing where we are.

It’s critical for leaders to be positive and proactive during change. Here are a few tips for dealing with CBD in yourself and others:

Change your perspective

Our response to change in the workplace often is the result of fear of loss. Through evolution as human beings we have been hard-wired to protect our resources. We view work as a zero sum game: any change at work means I might lose out and someone else will get my stuff. 

That’s why, at work, we hear people say, “I hate change!”

In my workshops I’ll ask leaders to move beyond this emotional reaction by considering the fact that we accept and even encourage change in our personal lives: we marry, we have children, we move to bigger houses…and change continues.

Control your response

We don’t have control over events but we can control our responses. No one can make you angry — only you can decide your response to something others do or say. If you need reinforcement on this point write down the passage of the Alcoholics Anonymous Serenity Prayer at the start of this post.

Reframe as a problem solver

Consistent with controlling your response is reframing yourself to be a problem solver. Taking action on what you can will give you a sense of control, mastery over your own destiny. Start with small wins. It will not only help you but those around you as they see a proactive problem solver at work. If you can’t solve a problem, let it go. It’s not yours to worry about.

Limit your complaining

I’ve worked with a woman sales leader who uses her “five-minute rule.” She allows her team to complain as much as they want, let it loose — for five minutes. After that, accept where you are and move on. 

Get it out of your system

Sometimes five minutes is not enough. You can reduce your anger, anxiety and other emotions by releasing them from your mind and body. Exercise, meditation and mindfulness are great practices to find your balance.

To release a specific issue, consider writing it down. Write an angry email that vents all of your true feelings — without adding a name. Do not send this email!

Keeping a journal or writing lists of concerns over time might allow you to see a pattern of your persistent concerns.

Let it go

Easier said than done, but we benefit from just letting things go. Most changes in our lives are not as bad or as good as we see them. In the end, most will be a blip on the radar.

In work and life, change is inevitable. Your response is not. Choose to be proactive. Stay away from CBD

What questions do you have for me? Just use my contact page to talk with me now.


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5 Ways to Stop Comparing Yourself to Others

Comparison is the thief of joy.  

–– President Theodore Roosevelt

By John Millen

Here in the United States this weekend we celebrate the Labor Day holiday. 
This traditional break between summer and fall is a good opportunity to reflect on where we find ourselves at work, and in life.
A sense of frustration in corporate workplaces is a key problem I see in my travels. People complain about not being promoted quickly enough, that their rival has a better title, that someone else is favored by the boss.
This is not confined to young, ambitious employees; a sense that someone else is unfairly benefiting runs from the front lines to the boardroom in most companies.
It’s not our fault. We humans are hardwired as tribal, territorial animals. We think if someone else is winning, we must be losing. 
And, of course, this fear of loss, or fear of less, is not confined to work. We carry it throughout our lives.
Back in the day this comparison was called keeping up with the Joneses. That meant envying your neighbors’ possessions and spending to compete with their status and conspicuous consumption.
Social media envy
Social media has exponentially compounded this effect. People focus on the “perfect” lives of others: their expensive possessions, their fun-filled travel, their pristine family lives.
This is why “influencers” on Instagram and other media make millions from sales of products linked to the status, identity and lifestyle of their followers.
This is also why social media consumption is linked to depression, anxiety and other maladies. Tech companies have mastered and exploited our most basic human survival instincts.
Perception versus reality
What we fail to realize is that these perceptions we have of others, while real to us, are not reality. You never know the pain and struggles people have behind what we might think of as their perfect lives.
During my leadership workshops, I ask people to bring and tell a three-minute story they are comfortable sharing from their work or personal lives. With most groups, a handful of people will share stories of family or personal challenges that bring tears to your eyes. From simply seeing people in the workplace, and maybe envying their success, you have no idea where they really are in their lives.
Secret of life
The best advice I have is the old saying:the secret of life is not having what you want, it’s wanting what you have.
Follow that advice and you’ll find more contentment in your life. Here are a few other tips that might help:
1. Recognize what you have
If you take inventory of your life, you’ll find great riches: your family and friends, your skills, your work.
2. Express gratitude 
We are blessed. I’ve lost family members and friends and it’s not cliché that people don’t think about status and possessions at the end of their lives. It’s their relationships and experiences that matter.
Giving thanks for what you have can change your life. I have a practice, upon waking in the morning (even before I look at my phone!), of focusing on three things I intend to be grateful for that day. It might be a family member or friend, a client I enjoy working with, or something as simple as the fresh opportunities of a new day.
The other gratitude strategy I use is to be grateful when I’m under stress during the day. We believe the myth that we can multitask, but all we do is switch our thoughts back and forth. This means that when we feel envious, or angry, or depressed, purposely thinking of something we’re grateful for will literally change our minds. Try it. You can’t be grateful and jealous at the same time!
3. Realize you are perfect as you are
The U.S. economy derives some 70 percent of its power from consumer spending. To promote that consumption, we are constantly bombarded by advertising to create a sense of deprivation, a feeling of unease about what we don’t have. Don’t identify your worth with your status and stuff. You are perfect as you are.
4. Stuff impulse buying
This doesn’t mean you have to be a minimalist living with a chair, a toothbrush, and a pair of jeans. But considering purchases carefully can make a huge difference. 
Paul, a friend and neighbor of mine, recently handed me a print of this fascinating article about how the father of Rob Gronkowski, the retired NFL Patriots tight end, taught his five boys the value of money. He made them work and pay for sports equipment even as kids, and the family had a rule that if they desire something they should wait for two weeks before buying. Usually they’d pass on the item.
Unlike many NFL players who are broke despite multi-million-dollar contracts, Gronkowski banked all the money he was paid to join the league and, his father says, until a few years ago Rob was wearing the same jeans he wore in high school. 
5. Practice mindfulness
Our level of distraction is unprecedented. Not only with the pull of our phones and social media, but with the blurring of lines between work and home life. When we’re home with family, we’re still at work, and when we’re on the job, we’re thinking about home.
People also spend a lot of time living in the past or contemplating the future. As I said in a recent wedding toast, I believe the secret to life is being present and enjoying the current moment. That’s all we have.
Life is too short. Why waste your time comparing yourself to others?

If you have thoughts, feedback or questions for me, just visit my contact page.

With appreciation,


How to Build Stronger Relationships in Business and Life

If business comes from your relationships, relationships should be your business.

— Doug Ales

By John Millen

Working with 20 mid-level financial consulting leaders in Texas this week, I emphasized the critical need to develop relationships in all directions inside and outside their huge consulting firm.

That's because, when you think about, what's the one thing that all successful people have in common?

Intelligence? No.

Good looks? Nope.

Hard work? Not necessarily.

The real answer is relationships.

Behind every successful person … or more accurately, around every successful person, is a network of people who are there to provide the appropriate support at the right time. Think about it. No one has done anything alone.

Steve Jobs? He had Steve Wozniak and a legion of other great minds contributing intellectual capital and engineering skills.

LeBron James? He had four other starters, a bench full of role players and various coaches and trainers, as well as a community that protected and nurtured him in his journey

No individual achievements

No one has ever done anything alone. Even accomplishments that seem to be individual achievements are backed by a lifetime of relationships that brought that person to that moment.

In fact, it seems the more established and influential the network someone has, the greater the person's ability to achieve — to champion ideas, to solve problems, and to lead others.

There are no exceptions. Personal and professional success is, and forever will be, tied to building a network of relationships.

Unfortunately, the term “networking” has been tainted as negative by people who think it’s all about schmoozing at business functions and handing out business cards.

The truth is that great networking is really about creating, building and maintaining relationships. And at the heart of any relationship — whether personal or professional — is communication. It’s that simple.

My friend Frank Agin makes his living helping others create successful relationships. Frank is the founder and president of AmSpirit Business Connections, a franchise organization that helps people to develop stronger business relationships through structured weekly meetings.

Frank is also an author. In his book Foundational Networking: Building Know, Like and Trust to Create A Lifetime of Extraordinary Success, Frank writes that effective networking is not about rehearsed statements or formulaic activities. Rather effective networking is about getting people to know, like and trust us.

How do we communicate (in both word and deed) to get others to know, like and trust us? Frank says there is no magic to this; no secret tricks.

In Foundational Networking, Frank advocates that getting people to know, like and trust us is merely a function of our attitudes and habits surrounding three things: Presence, Altruism, and Integrity. Here is how he describes those attributes:


Presence involves your attitudes and habits toward how you carry yourself and how you appear to others. In other words, what do your words and actions communicate to the world around you?

Ask yourself, who are you are drawn to …

·      The person who is happy or the person who is gloomy?

·      The person who expresses optimism or the person who is pessimistic?

·      The person who demonstrates great courage or the person who lives in a state of fear?

No doubt, you are attracted to the happy, optimistic and courageous person. Now answer this: When people see you, what do they see? When they hear you, what do they hear? In a quiet, private moment, give yourself that honest assessment.

To build relationships which, remember, ultimately drives success, you need to adopt attitudes and habits that communicate happiness, optimism, and courage. These things will attract people to you.


Altruism is next. It involves all your attitudes and habits related to your disposition toward contributing to the lives of others. That is, to what extent are you committed to giving to the world around you — not just money or physical assets, but also time and talent.

Ask yourself, who are you are drawn to, the person who is focused on giving to the world around them or the person who is focused on getting from it? You likely answered the giver.

And that answer is consistent with the research Dr. Adam Grant reported in his book Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach To Success

Now honestly assess yourself. To what extent do your words and actions communicate benevolence? What do you give? To whom do you give? Why?

You need to remember that when it comes to communicating an altruistic attitude, it’s not really about what you give, or how much you give. Rather, what matters most is the spirit that moves you. Know that people are drawn to those who genuinely communicate a generous spirit.


Integrity, finally, involves your attitudes and habits with respect to how you interact with others. Who are you drawn to, the trustworthy person or the person whose integrity comes into question?

While the answer to that question is rhetorical, you can make a candid assessment of your own integrity. Are you trustworthy, doing the right thing even if it might not be in your best interest? Are you reliable, doing what you say you are going to do?

It’s important to understand that you shouldn’t answer these questions on the basis of major interactions or significant transactions alone. While those are important to be sure, 99.9% of the population passes those tests.

Where this assessment is most critical is the little things. After all, this is where others judge you the most, looking to see how you communicate your integrity when the stakes may not be as high and when very few people are watching.

Success is Relationship-Based

In summary, Frank notes that your success is tied to others. It is your relationships and how you communicate with the people around you.

As such, Frank says your attitudes and habits need to be geared towards communicating …

·      A happy, optimistic and courageous existence;

·      A willingness to contribute to the people around you; and,

·      An air of honesty and reliability with everything you do.

This is how others will come to know, like and trust you, developing relationships that foster success for you, and for them.

If you have thoughts, feedback or questions for me, please visit my contact page.

With appreciation,


How to Respond to 'Thank You'

We all spend hours of our days at work and home trying to convince other people to think or behave in certain ways.

In fact, research indicates that we all spend up to 40 percent of our time working to influence others. Those in sales, litigation and other arenas must dedicate much more of their time to persuasion.
That’s why I’m excited that my friend Brian Ahearn, an influence expert, this week published his first book, Influence PEOPLE, Powerful Everyday Opportunities to Persuade that are Lasting and Ethical.
Brian is one of 20 people worldwide certified by Dr. Robert Cialdini, the researcher whose books form the basis of the science of persuasion. Brian gave me a review copy of the book and what I love about it is that he applies the principles of influence to everyday work and life.
I purchased my own copy on Amazon and, if you have an interest in learning how to ethically persuade others to say “yes,” you’ll want to read this book as well. 

influence people.jpg

When we first met about 10 years ago, Brian shared with me the influential way to respond to people who thank you. With Brian’s permission I’m including this excerpt from his book about responding to thanks:
A theme I repeat to audiences is this – small changes can make big differences. You’ve probably noticed I’ve repeated it in this book too. How you respond to “Thank you” seems like a small thing but it can make a big difference to the other person. 
Robert Cialdini often shares a story about an Australian businessman who attended one of his conferences. Cialdini noticed the man became visibly agitated as he spoke. When they had an opportunity to speak the man shared a story. 
He said he owned a software business located in Sydney, Australia and his largest client was in Melbourne, a distance of roughly 700 miles. This important client had a software problem so the business owner took his top two technicians and accompanied them on the trip. Fortunately, they solved the problem rather quickly. 
The IT director of the business thanked the man profusely, noting how he, as the owner of the company, took time out of his busy schedule to make the trip along with his top two people. 
She said it was above and beyond her expectations. What the man did next sealed his fate because he never got any more business from this client; his largest at the time! 
Perhaps a little embarrassed by all the praise he said, “It was no big deal. We love to come to Melbourne. The nightlife is great as are the restaurants. Don’t think anything of it.” 
Did you notice what he did? She felt he went above and beyond the call of duty. It made her feel special but he basically said, “You are not special. We would do this for anyone to have the chance to come to Melbourne.” 
Pay attention to how people respond to you when you thank them. You’ll probably hear one of these responses the vast majority of the 

  • “No problem.”

  • “No big deal.”

  • “Just doing my job.”

  • “I would have done it for anyone.”

  • Or worst of all...silence.

Strike each of these from your response vocabulary! None does anything to engage the other person and make them feel special. It doesn’t matter how much effort it took you; what matters is what it meant to the other person.

I have a friend I used to reach out to for lunch every month. One day he thanked me and – not knowing anything about persuasion at the time – I replied, “It’s not that I’m such a nice guy, I’m just really good with my computer.”

I jokingly said that because I’d set up a recurring task to remind me to call him at the beginning of each month. It was almost effortless for me to do this but it meant a lot to him.

I was fortunate he was a long-time friend because he responded graciously, telling me no matter what, it meant a lot to him when I reached out. I never forgot that exchange because it was an “ah-ha” moment for me about how to respond to “Thanks.”

How could I have responded differently to my friend? I should have said something like this; “Your friendship means a lot to me so I am happy to call you each month. I appreciate you making room in your schedule to get together consistently.”

How could the Sydney software executive have responded? Any of the following would have been better than his actual response:

  • “You are one of our most important clients so we were happy to do this for you.”

  • “That’s what long-term partners do for one another. Thank you for trusting us.”

  • “That’s part of the great service you can expect when you deal with us. We appreciate you and your business.”

How will you respond next time someone thanks you?

  • “It would have killed an ordinary person but I was glad to risk it for you.” (People enjoy humor and this one usually gets a laugh!)

  • “That’s part of the great service you can expect when you deal with me.”

  • “I was happy to do it. I appreciate you (or your business).”

How can you Influence PEOPLE? When you hear “Thank you” take the opportunity to engage people in ways that make them feel special. Doing so will also make them feel better about dealing with you. That added satisfaction will keep them coming back and increase the odds they’ll share your fame with their friends and business associates.
Thanks to Brian Ahearn for letting me share this excerpt from his new book Influence PEOPLE  and many thanks to you for reading Sunday Coffee.
If you’d like to respond to my “thanks” in the proper way or share your thoughts with me just visit my contact page.