Updated: Dec 18, 2020
How Business Leaders Communicate to Influence, Not Inform
“When dealing with people, remember you are not dealing with creatures of logic, but with creatures of emotion, creatures bristling with prejudice, and motivated by pride and vanity.”
- Dale Carnegie
When I want to illustrate that we humans are creatures of emotion, not logic, I conduct a simple demonstration. I ask someone to face me and place their hand in the air, with the palm forward. I then gently place the palm of my hand on theirs without any pressure. After a few seconds, and without saying a word, I apply a very light pressure forward on their palm. Immediately, the person applies some pressure back to resist. I slightly increase the pressure, and they start pushing back harder. Within a few moments, I am applying my full force on their hand and they are pushing back with full force. I never asked them to push back nor to hold their hand in place. I normally stop the demonstration here before it descends into a full blown shoving match. However, the point is made: people instinctively push back.
I have conducted this demonstration a number of times and have yet to have a single person allow me to push their hand forward more than a few inches. In every case, big or small, male or female, people have pushed back. I use this to demonstrate a key point about communications and leadership: all humans, out of biological and perhaps evolutionary necessity, are hard-wired to push back, to resist, to defend their position. We are not starting from a neutral or receptive position, rather one of instinctive resistance.
Ignore this insight to human behavior, and you risk a long and perilous road as an effective communicator. Embrace it, and you will have the ability to get virtually anything done.
Being an effective communicator is not about informing, rather it’s about influencing behaviors. With the obvious exceptions of an emergency situation, simple tasks, transferring hard data or command and control situations, effective communications is about persuading and influencing people. Rarely is it about just transferring information.
Communicating to influence can help you become more effective since you can create an incentive for others to benefit while helping you. It encourages sharpened interpersonal skills, develops greater relationship bonds and helps create long-term trust. It broadcasts that you care and are genuinely interested in their well-being. It communicates with a sense of respect for the relationsh
Here are the 5 actions you can take to communicate with influence:
Neutralize First. Start a conversation by reducing instinctive resistance (as noted above) in order to put the person in a neutral and receptive state. Do this by being authentic and transparent upfront, showing them respect, and framing the conversation. Reduce their risk. If they start to push back, avoid the temptation to push back harder, rather be flexible and understanding, but firm where necessary.
Provide Context. Most people are willing and eager to help, but often resist out of lack of information and not wanting to look stupid. Ease this risk by providing some context for communications (why) before you get into the heart of the matter. Don’t assume they know all that you know.
Choose Your Timing. It’s hard to influence anyone when they are completely distracted or worried about something bigger than your problems. Be thoughtful to the time, place and method or your communication, so you give the other person the maximum opportunity to successfully engage with you.
Understand Their World. Influences take the time to understand the other person’s world, than then communicate in terms, and at a level, that they can relate to. Be sincere, be clear and communicate in ways that relate to the way they see the world, not only as you see it.
Focus on a Goal. Never forget that the objective is to make something happen. So stay focused on what you want to achieve, and what specific action you want to happen next. Confirm this understanding and seek a commitment or pledge from the other person to proceed. Always double check the understanding in clear and simple language.