The Art of Influence without Manipulation
Publication date: 06/03/2013
Bestseller over 30,000+ copies sold
At its core, when you are applying influence and changing another person’s mind, you are taking an idea, planting that idea in his brain, and making him feel as if he thought of it.
Does the quote above disturb you? I’d be surprised if it didn’t. Let’s not waste any time and get right to the heart of the matter. Does that quote define influence or manipulation? Indiana poet James Whitcomb Riley coined the phrase, “When I see a bird that walks like a duck and swims like a duck and quacks like a duck, I call that bird a duck.” I will show you a repeatable, predictable approach to changing another person’s mind. It’s not always pretty, it’s not always safe, and I’m well aware that the use of the word “influence” bothers people. The use of the word “manipulation” sickens people. Worst of all, the line between these two words can be razor thin. In fact, at times the difference may very well come down to intent, and nothing more. But before you shoot the messenger, please consider the following story.
It’s Tuesday morning, and Dan is running a little late for his annual physical. He’s been seeing his doctor on a yearly basis for over a decade. As he puts the key in the ignition, he smiles and thinks, “I know how this is going to go.”
Sitting in the examining room waiting for his doctor gives Dan a little time to reflect on the year since his last visit. He promised to take off some weight. Instead he has put on a few pounds. He promised to exercise more. He has been exercising less. Business is tough, and who has time to exercise? Besides, he’s exhausted by the time he gets home from work.
When Dan’s doctor finally does appear, the appointment, and the lecture that go with it, don’t disappoint. “Dan, you need to make certain lifestyle changes!” Dan nods and promises he will, but deep down both men know that no changes will take place. They are both wrong.
Two months later it starts with a shortness of breath, and some pressure in Dan’s chest, which goes away as fast as it started. Then the shortness of breath and pressure recur, escalating rapidly to discomfort in one of his arms, and nausea. His wife rushes him to the hospital where Dan’s life is saved.
Of course, the double bypass he must endure is more brutal than he ever could have imagined. The missed work, the rehab, and the financial issues with an operation like this are also part of Dan’s story. Today, my friend Dan is doing well. Not surprisingly, he’s finally taken the weight off, and he has developed a steady and disciplined exercise routine.
This kind of frank and harsh scenario plays itself out over and over again, every day of the week, every week of the year, and every year of a lifetime. Sometimes it’s a different vice, or no vice at all. It can be as simple as a poor study habit, or as complicated as an emotional scar stemming from a dysfunctional childhood. The players change, and certain elements of the plotline change, but the results are the same. And there’s often a sense that there’s nothing we can do about it. But I believe we can do something about it, and I want to show you exactly how.
In the early nineties when I was still with Xerox, my job was to work with outside clients who wanted to learn how to persuade the “Xerox way.” I saw all kinds of clients you would not necessarily connect to selling, who had no difficulty connecting to the message of changing minds. However, a favorite client was one of the nation’s largest churches. The story was the same, but substitute someone who has lost herself morally with someone who lost himself to alcohol. I was hearing the same story with a different client:
“We want to help people find their way. Unfortunately, those who really need us don’t want our help.” (You probably know the rest of the story.) “It seems that those who do want our help and are seeking us out always seem to be coming as a result of a recent tragedy in their lives.”
What a coincidence. Or is it? The church in question became one of my best clients. Why? Because in less than five minutes I was able to convince the ministry that to save people, they had to stop preaching, and instead learn how to influence behavior and give the plotlines they were describing a good, old-fashioned push. When I formally taught them how to persuade, they succeeded, and are now one of the largest churches in the country.
Now notice, I didn’t say “pitch,” I said “push.” So many people get squeamish when they hear the word “push.” It sounds like you are shoving people toward a solution they cannot seem to find on their own. Guilty as charged; that’s exactly what I’m proposing. Boiled down, we are often faced with only two choices: Either pitch a solution to someone, or push someone toward it. The focus of this book is a defense of the latter, because when it comes to changing minds, I’m no fan of the pitch.
IT’S NOT A “PITCH,” IT’S A “PUSH”
I received an email from a good friend who asked me what I thought of the word “pitch.” She was relating it to a salesperson she worked with who had an uncanny way of using the word to describe his daily sales activities, reveling in it every time. Never shy, I presented my opinion in three words: “I hate it.” I can hear my mother now: “Hate is such a strong word.” So, out of respect for my mother, let me put it this way: “I’m offended by it.”
Let’s do a little test. What is the first thing that comes to your mind when you hear the word “pitch”? Something tells me your first thought is not “ask questions” or “listen.” Maybe I’m too emotional here, so let’s consult Webster’s, which defines “pitch” as a high-pressure sales talk.
Imagine setting up a meeting with a client, or phoning a friend to say, “For the record, I intend to have a high-pressure sales talk with you.” Sounds like a surefire approach to getting the click of a hang-up in your ear. I suppose you could just surprise your friend with your pitch, but I think you get the point here. If this is something we have no intention of doing, and it’s offensive to anyone you speak with, why is this word still even in use?
I suppose the word “pitch” has its place on QVC or on a good infomercial. The late Billy Mays was one of the best pitchmen who ever lived. I never got the sense that sitting with Billy would provide much back-and-forth banter, nor did I see him as a champion consultant, but, man, that guy could pitch! In fact, he was the perfect pitchman. He could outtalk, outshout, and outlast anyone who stepped up to his booth. I would not recommend stepping in front of another human being you want to persuade and shouting, “HI, ROB JOLLES HERE, AND DO I HAVE A SOLUTION FOR YOU!”
The irony here is that true influence in its purest form could not be further from the concept of a pitch. In fact, it’s the complete opposite. Instead of talking, it involves listening. Instead of hammering on a one-idea-fits-all concept, it involves shaping the solution to fit another person’s specific needs. Instead of obsessing on a solution, it involves studying another person’s potential problems.
Want to know why salespeople get a bad name? It’s because clients are afraid they are going to have to talk on the phone, or sit face-to-face with some knucklehead who wants to pitch something to them.
Long before my time, door-to-door salespeople (think Fuller Brush, vacuum cleaners, the Bible) roamed the earth, managed to get a foot in the door, and occasionally wowed someone with a well-rehearsed pitch. But the yellow leisure suits that accompanied that age of selling have gone out of style, and we’ve moved on. So let me finish this small tirade with a pitch of my own.
Step right up, make a commitment, and join the millions who have said, no to the word “pitch”! Eliminate that word from your vocabulary and you’ll not only spare yourself the embarrassment of informing others that you have little to no interest in their needs, you’ll demonstrate a true understanding of what your real role is in the first place. (Do it today, and I’ll even throw in a spiral slicer … but you must act now!)
As a parent, spouse, manager, or friend, our part of the plotline is always the same. We want to influence behavior, and we want to help, but we just don’t know how. It’s a fascinating paradox because we know what the solution is! It’s so clear to us! We often rehearse what we need to say. Once we say it, we are hurt, if not shocked, that our well-rehearsed words seem to have no effect on the person we are trying to help. The reason for this is that most of us don’t know how to give those we are trying to help the push they so desperately need. We don’t know how to change minds.
Is it because we don’t believe we have the right to do so, ethically? There is a moral line between influence and manipulation, but before we discuss it, let me repeat, you must believe that “influence” is not a bad word. It all begins with believing.
There can be no substitutes, no do-overs, no thinking about it. You must believe in your solution.
Why do I tell you this? Because, before we can start our journey to influence, we must create a foundation from which to begin. That foundation is based on belief. Ask yourself this simple question: “Do I believe, without a shadow of a doubt, in what I am prepared to influence another person to do?”
Sound corny? I hope not, because it’s one of the most important questions you can ever ask yourself. I’m about to take you on a journey that will unlock doors that have been previously closed to you. My commitment to you is not only to teach you to influence others, but to give you tools that will be repeatable and predictable. But there’s a catch. You must believe in what you are influencing others to do.
A Crisis in Believing
I’ll warn you in advance, this is personal. When it comes to examining the art of influencing, we have a crisis, and it’s a crisis in believing. So many struggle with the thought of influencing another person’s actions. We should never, ever avoid the word “influence” again; we should respect it, embrace it, and believe in it.
The thought of using a set of skills to persuade others to do something based on your thoughts and not on theirs seems to make people nervous. I think we need to step up, get past our fears, and believe, because there are scenarios that exist that desperately require the skills of influence.
Left to our own devices, we are a species who instinctively fear change. We are a species who instinctively avoid the thought of long-term ramifications of a particular problem. We are a species who would rather dabble in the dysfunctional known, than risk venturing into the unknown.
We need to believe. We need to believe that the act of influence is not a skill that should be ridiculed or questioned. It should be inspected, respected, and, dare I say it, admired. But it starts with believing.
Believing there is a desperate need for people who can save us from our inability to question ourselves. Yes, there are scenarios begging for these skills.
There is a murky line between the art of influence and the act of manipulation. When you see the scenarios that demand influence, and the line that exists between that and manipulation, you will no longer fear the act of influence. You will believe.
ONE MORE SALES STORY
I knew a young man years ago who attended the University of Maryland. He was one heck of a salesman, and he wanted nothing more than to follow in the footsteps of his father, also a great salesman. As a kid, he had sold more light bulbs for his Cub Scouts’ fund raiser than anyone else.
When he was old enough, he joined the Boy Scouts. His troop sold first-aid kits for the glove boxes of automobiles. His troop sold fertilizer. His troop even sold doughnuts door to door. No matter what the item was, this kid sold more than anyone else, and there were over 130 scouts in that kid’s troop!
He loved selling so much that when he graduated from the University of Maryland, he went on to work for the top insurance company in the country. Two weeks after turning 22 years old, he started selling insurance. He studied his sales scripts until he knew them cold, and most important of all, he believed in the product (after all, at some point life everyone needs life insurance).
He wanted to sell to older individuals because they were clients with defined needs. Unfortunately, though, his age held him back. He did not have a lot in common with older clients, so, at the suggestion of his managers, he worked diligently at selling to his peer group—other 22-year-olds. He struggled with the concept of selling life insurance to his peer group because there just wasn’t a need for his product.
Would the product protect his clients’ families? Sure, but almost all of his friends were single.
Would the product protect his clients’ homes? Sure, but almost all of his friends were too young to own a home.
Would the rates go up? Sure, but not for another fifteen years.
His manager came up with a great idea. With a clever rider (optional add-on) to the policy, his clients could keep purchasing insurance over a set period of time without evidence of insurability. In other words, he learned how to insure his clients’ insurability.
Did he truly believe this solution was in the best interest of his clients? For some that had a history of family illness, yes; however, for most of his prospective clients, no. Did he sell it? Yes, and a lot of it. Did it bother him to sell it? Not at first.
But then it did bother him. He did not believe in his product, and this ate away at him. His sales numbers were strong, but after a couple of years it ate away at him so much that it cost him his career. I should know, because I was that kid.
I thought I was influencing behaviors, but in reality, I was engaged in manipulating behaviors. What’s the difference between influence and manipulation? We’ll look at this question from many angles, but for now, let’s start here.
Those who manipulate engage in persuasion regardless of their personal feelings about a solution.
Those who influence engage in persuasion only if their personal feelings support their solution.
In short, I believe manipulation is unethical influence. If you wouldn’t buy an insurance policy, don’t influence someone else to. If you think the person you are speaking to has needs that an insurance policy addresses, influence her to take action.
If you wouldn’t join a gym, don’t influence someone else to. On the other hand, if you think the person you are speaking to has issues that would be properly addressed by joining a gym, influence him to take action.
If you don’t believe in what you are influencing others to do, it might not catch up with you today, or tomorrow, but one day you’ll look in the mirror as I did, and you will struggle with what you see.
I desperately need you to believe. I need you to believe that your children, your spouse, your boss, your co-workers, your clients, your banker, your accountant, your lawyer, your patient, your peers, and your friends will be better off by being influenced by your words. If you believe that, and I mean really believe that, down to your very core, I’ll be happy to show you exactly how. If not, you will be building a wall with no foundation, and eventually it will crumble.
There are so many beautiful chapters in our lives. We are born, our parents nurture us, and we grow. If we are truly blessed, we get to experience life with our parents as they grow old. But with that blessing comes the challenge that old age brings to life. How many of us have heard scenarios like this?
My parents are now in their mid-80s. Dad has early signs of Alzheimer’s, and Mom is becoming too frail to take care of him properly. I’ve tried to get them to sell their house and move into a more senior living environment, but despite their challenges they’ll have none of it. As a matter of fact, they seem to think that I am not being a loyal son by even asking them to talk about it.
Before we get anywhere near a process, let’s get a few final things straight. People may not ask others to change their minds, but they often need to have their minds changed. In Dave’s story, a situation with a sadly predictable ending unfolds. The license will be revoked after the accident occurs. The house that his parents are clinging to, which represents their freedom, will be sold after an avoidable accident, and the sanctuary they created turns cruelly against them.
We seem to discount rather than respect those who possess the skills necessary to move others to change. As a person who has devoted more than half his life teaching others how to do this, you’ll pardon me if I’m a bit offended by those who discount these skills. Someone who possesses these skills may become your most valuable asset someday; he may even save your life.
How do you define a good doctor? As a professional who has a good knowledge of the medical specialty she represents? On the surface I would tend to agree with you, but let’s dig a little deeper than the mere medical certification.
What about this doctor’s bedside manner? That’s important because as patients we need to feel comfortable with someone with whom we are sharing personal, intimate information. Even more than that, I want a doctor who knows how to change minds!
I thought my personal doctor, John Valenti, summed it all up beautifully one day when I saw him for my annual physical. I was asking him about staying healthy, and he said, quite succinctly, “Listen, if you exercise, eat right, and try to reduce the amount of stress in your life, you are doing all the right things. After that, it’s just a question of avoiding bad luck.”
Truer words have rarely been spoken. Now you know the secret to a good life. All you need to do is act on the information Dr. Valenti has now given both of us.
We all would like to live a healthy lifestyle. Chances are, we’ll feel better and live longer if we do. Sounds like a pretty good plan to me. So why do so many of us struggle with the things we know we need to do to enjoy this healthy lifestyle?
Exercise? We’ll get around to it, but many of us have a lot on our plate, and we don’t have the time to devote to regular exercise. Besides, a hard workout is not the most enjoyable moment of the day. Yes, it feels great when we finish, but so does our head after we stop banging it against a wall!
Diet? Most of us know what is good for us to eat and what isn’t good for us to eat. Foods that are actually good for us typically don’t taste as good as the ones that are not as good for us. Besides, it’s more expensive to eat healthy foods.
Reduce stress? Maybe that’s the grayest of the three criteria here, but by the time we are adults we know what stresses us and what reduces our stress. It’s difficult finding a new job, and it’s scary starting a new relationship.
The funny thing is that eventually we make some of these changes on our own. Consider these examples.
Exercise? When we get embarrassed at the company picnic because we can’t make it once around the field, or keep up with our kids in a pickup game, or lose a game of tennis to an inferior athlete, we just might get angry enough to start working out.
Diet? When we can no longer fit into a favorite pair of pants, or our blood pressure rises to an unsafe level, we’ll begin to watch what we eat.
Reduce stress? If we are lucky, and we make it through a medical scare, we’ll consider making tough changes in our lifestyle.
But what about the doctor, the one with the good bedside manner? Wouldn’t it be nice if she could truly convince us to change our lifestyle? The ones who can convince us to make changes know how to influence our behavior. The ones that cannot convince us to make changes know what to tell us we need to do—they have the medical training and the information—but not how; they have no influence on our behavior, and get in and out of an examination room in a hurry.
A doctor is only one example of the kind of person I’m talking about. It could also be the lawyer who gets us to see that we would be better off paying to build a better contract as we go into a deal than shirking on this step and end up instead fighting the lawsuit that results from the deal.
It could be the parent who gets his kids to see that putting the Nintendo down and reading a book would have stronger long-term benefits in life than waiting for the U.S. Army to call looking for someone who can work a joystick under pressure.
It could be the accountant who gets us to see that it would be better to have a professional guiding your business through the whitewater of corporate tax requirements than a tax professional guiding your business through the long and costly ramifications of an audit.
It could be a business, a parent, a manager, a teacher, a friend, a coach, or anyone who needs to change another person’s mind. There is no profession or person that cannot benefit from the process about to be revealed.
This process is irrelevant without a foundation. That foundation is the understanding that it’s human nature to fear change, and that no change can take place in the absence of believing, truly believing, in the necessity of influence.
When you believe in a thing, believe in it all the way, implicitly and unquestionable.
So, do you believe? Do you believe that there are scenarios in life that require the skills of influence? Equally important, do you believe the solution you are drawing someone toward is truly in the best interest of the person whose mind you are changing? Assuming the answer is yes, we now have a foundation for influence, while avoiding manipulation. So now we can dive right into the steps necessary to create this change of mind. Right? No, first we must understand the process those you want to influence must go through to get to these steps. And that is where we begin.
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