So much of our communication is about influencing others in some way or the other. Whether you’re getting your child to tie her shoelaces, your partner to pick up the dry cleaning after work, or your employees to work extra hours to deliver a project on time, how you communicate with them will impact the outcome in more ways than you realize.
Many of us grew up at a time when there was no way you could even question—much less refuse—what adults wanted of you. Parents, teachers, even older cousins often used the power of authority to get you to do most things—especially things they didn’t want to do! Some of those early experiences can linger on as more extrinsic forms of motivation where you feel compelled to do certain things even though they feel inauthentic or misaligned with what you want for yourself—such is the miserable world of “shoulds”.
Luckily, it’s not so easy to influence by hierarchy in today’s world. Most of us have moved past the “socialized mind” where our decisions are based on what others expect of us. We now live in an age of autonomy, where each individual is drawn by their own desires, their own vision for their lives. Workplaces that continue to operate through centralized decision-making risk disengagement, disgruntled employees, and high turnover. Parents who are controlling and don’t take out the time to truly connect to their children are often taken aback when their little ones rebel in adolescence. As for intimate relationships, the ones that thrive are often the ones that are not embroiled in a power imbalance—financial, emotional, or social.
If influencing by authority is mostly out, how do we influence those around us? As a leadership coach, I’ve seen remarkable results when clients value others as whole individuals. This not only means appreciating them as thinking adults capable of making their own decisions, but also connecting with the dreams and aspirations they have for themselves. We are all a mix of head and heart, and the ability to speak to both is what allows us to influence others toward win-win outcomes.
Step 1: Shine the Light
The journey to the head begins with the heart, because the emotional mind is the real driver of the decisions we make. Our first task is to appeal through emotions by connecting to people’s needs and drivers. Sometimes they themselves are unaware of these and sometimes they are too afraid to voice them. When we speak to a vision, we ignite their dreams and become their voice. They give us the power to make assertions on their behalf. It is far easier to lead people who believe in what we say, and any successful manager would vouch for the power of a team that is drawn to a common vision. If you’re struggling, talk to your team about what they value and align it with the organization’s vision. And if your challenges are with your little (or not so little) ones, get them excited about your vision for them. Why does it matter? What’s in it for them? This becomes integrated autonomy that is as close to intrinsic motivation as it gets.
Step 2: Speak to Reason
Once you’ve connected to people’s emotions, you need to add weight to an intangible dream. That is where reason comes in. We live in the knowledge economy, and few of us would be carried away by promises alone. We need facts and figures, real life examples, proof that our decisions will bear fruit. Successful marketers have mastered this art very well—scroll over the sales page of any successful product or service and you’ll see it in full display. In workplace situations, facts and figures give decisions their carrying power. When you’re trying to influence bosses and managers, you can cite research, publications, and testimonials because it takes away their insecurities about making a bad decision. When you’re trying to influence your partner toward a certain decision—why little Johnny needs to travel with the school soccer team, for example—you can use facts and figures about the social and emotional advantages of team travel.
Mind you, the rational mind is quite good at rationalization as well. This is when we use reason to justify emotional decisions, because “reason is slave to passion,” as David Hume said in the 18th century. When you speak to the lesser motivations of the emotional mind—to avoid pain and approach pleasure—you use your power to influence others toward decisions they may later regret, or those that serve your purpose alone.
If you want to influence in ethical ways and ensure that the decisions people make are driven by what they value and that ensure a positive outcome for all, speak to the higher motivations of the emotional mind, to those deepest human values of compassion and fairness. And to that inherent desire in each one of us—to leave behind a legacy we’re proud to call our own.