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Influence

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.

John

P.S. -- If you know someone who could benefit from this article, please forward this newsletter.

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

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:

NO CBD!

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 CBD! 

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.

John

P.S. -- If you know someone who could benefit from these weekly tips, please forward this newsletter. If you're new here you can subscribe with the button below.

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 
time: 

  • “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.
 

Three Super-Valuable Phrases forBusiness and Life

By John Millen

Ask for what you want, and be prepared to get it.–– Maya Angelou

Growing up with a hard-working single mother and few resources, I learned early on that it never hurts to ask. I’ve continued that policy, and it’s been helpful in every aspect of life and business.

 
On the other side of the ledger, I will go out of my way to ask other people how I can help them. I’m also a big believer in random acts of kindness. The world has never needed those more than it does today.
 
Avoiding rejection
But I know I’m not the norm. Many of us feel uncomfortable asking for help or some kind of favor. We think we’ll be rejected. We’re concerned we are imposing.  So we don’t ask. 
 
This is sad because I bet you can think back to opportunities you missed because you failed to ask: the cool assignment that went to someone else; the client you failed to win; or even the love that passed you by.
 
We shouldn’t be afraid to ask because people like to help other people. It’s a fact. It can make us feel good. Research says we get a hit of dopamine, the pleasure hormone, in our brain’s reward center by helping others.  
 
In any case, here are three phrases that will increase the likelihood you’ll get what you ask for.
 
1) “But you are free”
It would seem obvious that when you make a request of people, they have the right to decline. But something interesting happens when you say out loud that they, of course, can pass on your request. 
 
Long-term research has shown that people are almost twice as likely to do what you request if you add a phrase like, “but you are free” (BYAF) not to do that favor. The specific words are not important, it’s the acknowledgment that they have freedom of choice.
 
There are different theories about why this phrase works, but the evidence is clear. You can learn more by reading this interview with Dr. Christopher Carpenter, a researcher and professor at Western Illinois University, who reviewed forty-two studies on the BYAF effect.
 
I recommend you try using this phrase, or something similar. But feel free not to try it. 


2) “Because”
When you request a favor of someone, research shows you will be significantly more successful if you provide a reason for the request. This, again, would seem obvious, but as Dr. Robert Cialdini notes in his landmark book, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, you will be substantially more successful if you use the word “because” with your request. 
 
Citing the work of Harvard social psychologist Ellen Langer, Cialdini writes of experiments where a person would ask to cut the line to use a copy machine. The simple request using the word “because” resulted in more than 90 percent acceptance, while a request without the word was granted 60 percent of the time.
 
Here are the requests:
 
Excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the Xerox machine?  (60 percent acceptance)
 
Excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the Xerox machine because I’m in a rush?  (94 percent acceptance)
 
They added this question to make sure it was not the “rush” that caused compliance:
 
Excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the Xerox machine because I have to make some copies?  (93 percent acceptance)
 
Cialdini says the word “because” triggers our “automatic compliance response” as human beings. Hearing the word makes us automatically want to say “yes.” This, of course, does not apply to all situations, especially higher-stakes decisions.
 
I recommend against saying, “Would you promote me to vice president because I have great leadership ability?” 


3) “What questions do you have for me?”
Have you ever stood in front of a group when you finished your presentation and asked, “Do you have any questions?” Did you stand there for what seemed like an hour? Did you hear crickets? Did you say, uncomfortably, “Well, okay, I guess I covered everything.”
 
There’s something about hearing the phrase, “Do you have any questions” that seems to feel uninviting. Even people who have questions will look around at others and wonder if they’re imposing by asking a question. It’s weird.
 
Try this instead: “What questions do you have for me?” I started using this phrase about a year ago, and it works about 80 percent of the time, much more than the status quo approach. 
 
I ran across this approach in a small book titled, Exactly What to Say, The Magic Words for Influence and ImpactIt’s a simple read with twenty-three phrases focused mainly on successful sales but applicable in life since, as I always say, life is sales.
 
If you find any of those approaches interesting, I suggest you choose one and try it for thirty days because I believe you’ll see great results. But you are free to choose your own approach.
 
Now, what questions do you have for me? Just hit visit my contact page and we can talk.
 
John

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How to Make Friends and Influence People

When dealing with people, remember you are not dealing with creatures of logic, but creatures of emotion. 

–– Dale Carnegie



When I’m working with a group of leaders and someone asks for book recommendations, one of my first choices will be the classic, How to Win Friends and Influence People, by Dale Carnegie. Most people recognize this book and author.
 
However, when I ask when Carnegie wrote this landmark book, guesses vary widely, mostly settling in the 1960s. People are shocked to learn that the first edition actually was published in 1936!
 
Carnegie, who became a famous writer, trainer, and lecturer, was far ahead of his time in unearthing the principles of influence. What Carnegie wrote instinctively more than eight decades ago has since been scientifically verified by researchers, including Dr. Robert Cialdini in his book Influence: the Psychology of Persuasion.
 
Let me share the core ideas of Carnegie's great book, with the hope that you’ll pick it up and learn more. In his well-organized volume, Carnegie uses many stories from real people in history to illustrate his points, which makes it an interesting read. 
 
Carnegie’s central idea is that we can influence others with the simple act of showing respect and appreciation. 
 
Carnegie quotes John Dewey, who said that “the deepest desire in human nature is ‘the desire to be important.’” The book talks a lot about how people want to be appreciated – and how we can meet that need. It’s a universal longing for humans. Everyone wants to feel appreciated, encouraged, heard, and understood.
 
Here’s a bit more detail on three of his core principles:
 
1. Show appreciation
Carnegie credits appreciation as “one of the most neglected virtues of our daily existence.” Since we tend to focus on ourselves, we often forget to encourage and compliment our coworkers, children, spouses, or others we might meet on our daily journeys. 
 
He tells the story of a boy named Stevie Morris who lived in Detroit. One day, a teacher asked him to help her find a mouse that had been lost in the classroom. The teacher appreciated Stevie’s strong sense of hearing because the boy was blind.
 
It was the first time in this young man’s life that someone had shown appreciation for a talent he had. He now says “this act of appreciation was the beginning of a new life.” The boy had kept developing his keen sense of hearing and went on to become one of the world’s most famous singers – Stevie Wonder.
 
Carnegie urges us not to use false flattery, but to observe the talents and attributes of others and bring them to the light with an honest compliment. As a constant traveler, I can’t tell you how many upgrades in flights, hotels, and other services I’ve had by simply observing and giving honest compliments to people who suffer negative feedback all day long. 
 
2. Show interest in other people
It’s human nature for us to want to talk about ourselves. Some people think that the secret to winning friends is to make themselves interesting to others. But that’s not Carnegie’s path to making friends. 
 
“You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you,” Carnegie writes. You gain trust and respect from people when you show interest in them! 
 
President Theodore Roosevelt was known for his popularity among the people, especially those who served him. His valet wrote an entire book about how Roosevelt would always remember little things about the people around him. Roosevelt knew the names of the entire White House staff, including the kitchen staff.
 
3. Begin in a friendly way
If you want to win someone over to your way of thinking, it’s important to start things off in a friendly manner. If you jump straight to business or start criticizing or accusing, it puts the other person on the defensive. If you’re perceptive, you can feel a wall go up between you.  
 
Carnegie tells a story about a man who wanted to reduce his rent. Mr. Straub wanted to stay in his apartment, but couldn’t afford it. He’d heard that the landlord was mean and unwilling to budge on price. 
 
The landlord came to meet with him after Mr. Straub sent him a letter, telling him he couldn’t afford another year of rent. Straub started off by telling the landlord how much he loved the apartment and how well everything was run. The landlord was shocked because he’d never had such high praise from a tenant before! Without Mr. Straub saying anything, the landlord offered to reduce the price of rent. 
 
As Abraham Lincoln said, “A drop of honey catches more flies than a gallon of gall.” 
 
Conclusion
Overall, Carnegie’s real message is to treat others with interest, kindness, and respect. 
 
This simple credo will take you a long way. It’s not a gimmick or a fast fix, but rather a way of life.

Best wishes for the holidays,
  

John
 

P.S. –– To talk with me, please use my contact page.

The Secret to Getting What You Ask For 

If you wish to know the mind of a man, listen to his words.
 

—Johann Wolfgang von Goethe 

There are times in our lives when we have to ask for something major— a “high-stakes” ask.
 
The request could be for a job, a donation, or even a life partner. In those moments we might become overwhelmed with anxiety, fear of rejection, and even diminished self-worth.
 
It’s Not About You
Why? Because we’ve made it all about us, instead of about the person we’re asking. 
 
If we ask the right questions and listen fully to the answers, it becomes a real, non-threatening conversation.
 
The secret to getting what you ask for is really listening to the person you’re asking. Everything you need to know is right in front of you.
 
My friend and associate Kent Stroman works tirelessly with nonprofit boards, staff, and volunteers. His Institute for Conversational Fundraising equips fundraising leaders to ask for larger, often multi-million-dollar gifts successfully. But his sage advice teaches all of us how to approach asking in every aspect of business and life.
 
Marriage Proposal
Kent told me the story of a very major “ask” he experienced: a young man who wanted marry Kent’s youngest daughter asked for Kent’s blessing. The young man said, “I can’t see myself going through life without being married to your daughter.”
 
The ask was successful: Jonathan and Monica married, established their own home, and are expecting their third child in December. Major gifts, indeed. ;-)
 
Stroman says the key to asking for something major is to approach it as you would any important conversation by asking the right questions and then listening.
 
When I say “listening,” you’re probably thinking, “listening, yeah, I do that.” But not many of us truly listen as effectively as we might.
 
In his book, Asking About Asking, Mastering the Art of Conversational Fundraising Stroman says listening is the most important part of asking.
 
“If you’re going to listen strategically, you have to ask strategic questions. After preparing and asking purposeful questions, it’s time to be quiet and listen. Indeed, if we are not deliberate about listening, there is really no purpose to be served by asking,” Stroman writes. 

Your Eyes, Ears, Mind, and Heart
Kent and I share the same approach on listening: to be effective, you should listen with your ears, your eyes, your mind, and your heart.
 
Stroman warns to beware of the temptation to manipulate a conversation into coming back around to your interests.
 
Kent offers these tips to aid in asking strategically and listening thoughtfully:
 

  • You need to have a sincere interest in the person. If you aren’t sincere, it shows.

  • Ask open-ended questions to encourage her to talk.

  • That person will guide you in the conversation.

  • Most people want to express themselves and have a lot to say.

  • You should be about “their needs, their vision, their timing, and their preferences.”


Finally, Kent offers this guidance, “If you want insight into someone’s head, ask data questions (facts); but if you want a glimpse into their soul, ask heart questions (feelings).”
 
How Well Do You Listen?
So, how well do you listen, especially when you’re asking for something important?
 
In his book, Kent offers a five-point scale you can use to assess how effective you are as a listener:
 

  1. I do not listen to the speaker; I’m absorbed in my own thoughts.

  2. I contribute to the discussion but give no indication of having heard others’ comments.  

  3. I send nonverbal messages, such as eye contact or a head nod, to show that I heard what was being said.  

  4. I accurately refer to the other speaker’s comments in making my own statements.

  5. I show by my comments that I understand the meaning and feelings behind others’ comments.  


If you want a truly valid assessment of yourself as a listener, ask a trusted colleague or someone at home to rate you on this scale.
 
Whether it feels like it or not, this kind of feedback is, in itself, a major gift.
 
When you find yourself looking in someone’s eyes while they talk this week, think about whether you’re hearing, or really listening.
 
As always, if you want to talk with me, visit my contact page. I’m all ears. 

John
 
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