How do we influence others?

Imagining what it is like to be someone other than yourself is at the core of our humanity. It is the essence of compassion, and it is the beginning of morality.

I’ve had this quote from Ian McEwan lurking on my desktop for some time now and every time I read it I am struck buy how amazingly simple and how astonishingly profound it is.

At Aspire Leadership our courses are all about people influencing and communicating with each other whether we’re exploring transformational Leadership or looking at more concrete things such as how to make a project happen on budget and on time.

The one thing all our work has in common is how on earth we manage to work with other people and get people to buy in and do the things we want them to do. How do we exert our influence?

Well first, why not try and step into their shoes and understand their stuff. What’s going on for them?

The picture at the top of this blog has been around for a while now and will probably be familiar to a fair few of people (not least if you attend soft skills training courses!)

There are two women in the picture – an old one and a young one.

I have no idea what personal psychological secrets are revealed if you find it easier to see one or the other but what I do know is that you can’t see both at the same time. As they are intrinsically involved with each other you have to let one image go to allow the other to appear.

It’s a bit like this when we are holding on to a belief, an opinion, or a pattern of behaviour. It’s easier to influence others and embrace a new idea if we are not busy holding on like a hungry terrapin to our original viewpoint.

So to influence someone to a new way of thinking, the first thing we might try to do is understand why they are right in their alternative viewpoint. What does it look like from their position? What is it like to be them?

Influence with your Imagination

This is what Mr McKewan is talking about. Your imagination is really good at this stuff – and if in doubt, of course, you can always ask them what they’re thinking or feeling.

Once you have this information you can demonstrate your understanding of their position and acknowledge it. I really mean articulate it out loud so they can hear that you’ve got it. All this with no ifs or buts or equivocation. I mean simply going to where they are standing and admiring the view, side by side, for a moment.

So, if they only see the young lady in the picture talk about the young lady first. Show them that you see it too.

When you receive harmonious nods and smiles of agreement you can start to introduce a new way of looking at the picture. You can show how the features of the young lady could be viewed in a different way to construct an old lady.

They don’t have to argue or tell you their original viewpoint because you have acknowledged it so they are much more likely to feel they can safely let it go to make room for a different way of looking at things.

Hey presto! The old lady emerges.

Influence and the Law of Reciprocity

The law of reciprocity helps here too as we are far more likely to try and understand someone’s opposing view if they have showed willingness to understand us first.

So next time you want to bring someone to a new way of thinking try visiting their way of thinking first. It’s too easy to just bang on about our way (obviously the only right way) slower and louder until we or they give up in exasperation or fury.

And you never know…their way might be better after all…