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March 24, 2015

Creating Influence, Part Two

Bruce Murray

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Part one of this "Creating Influence" blog post was published on February 24. It outlined two main ideas from Dan Pink's book, To Sell is Human: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others. First, today's workers spend almost half their time influencing, persuading and convincing others of their ideas – and this time is  the most important in advancing their careers. The second idea is that our often-contemptuous attitudes about salespeople arose in the era of great information asymmetry between buyers and sellers. The Digital Age has flattened that information gap. Today's best sellers clarify their buyers' needs and then curate the overwhelming amount of information available to them.

In part two, we examine Pink's suggestions of "how to be" and "what to do" to extend our influence upon others. The ABC of sales in the past was Always Be Closing; that has given way to the new ABC of selling our ideas: Attunement, Buoyancy and Clarity.

Being attuned is to have empathy with another. Don't tell others what you think they need to know. Listen with your head and your heart. You don't need to agree, but you do need to understand what led them there. People are often reluctant to express emotions to people of power. Avoid intimidating, high-power physical positions. These include having your eye-level above theirs, leaning back with your chin pointing upward, and allowing your arms and legs to extend far from your torso.

You can build trust as you listen. Mimic the facial expressions and gestures that you see. When you are given the opportunity to reply, paraphrase what you've heard to ensure mutual understanding. Avoid mirror-like mimicking, which can feel offensive. React slowly and be a little understated. Limit your paraphrasing to key points and those the other person has expressed with heightened emotions. Gradually reduce the distance between yourselves. Research shows that light touches on the hands, arms or elbows makes people much more attuned to one another. Of course, individual and cultural factors play a role here.

You need to be buoyant, because nobody experiences rejection more than a salesperson. Pink suggests three practices: 1) Asking yourself questions ("Can I succeed?") will produce answers and reasons. Pumping yourself up with self-talk ("I am the best!") energizes you in the short-term, but the motivation doesn’t last. 2) Be mostly positive but tolerate a little negativity to keep yourself grounded. 3) Be optimistic. See bad news as temporary, specific and not eternal.

The Internet's abundant resources provide many problem-solving techniques, but problem-finding is as difficult as ever, or even more so. People need help when they are confused or clueless. Clarity demands contrast, and both emerge when your questions reveal latent issues. When our information is well-curated (organized for relevance and clarity), we can frame issues in a way that dramatizes their essential points. Limit the options you offer you buyer and give him or her a clear path of action to take.

Even when you are attuned, buoyant and focused on clarifying, you still have much to do to influence others. It begins with your pitch, and recognizing that you must engage your catcher as a collaborator. Effective pitches include: a single-word that's easy to recall; a question, which invites processing; and rhymes, which stimulate the mind's processing abilities.

Following Pink's ABCs of "how to be" certainly puts you in a position to spread influence, but your work is just starting. The key is to make a brief – but "sticky" – presentation. Make it easy to remember or, better yet, too hard to forget. Pink offers too many styles of "pitching" ideas to list them here.

Avoid traditional sales' use of scripts to follow up your pitch. The best practices to use are the cornerstones of improvisational theater. When you hear "no," don't think of it as a rejection. See offers of what's possible when you hear your buyer's reasons for rejecting you. Agree to whatever he says. Avoid the dreaded "Yes, but …" by saying "Yes, AND …" to alter his thinking. Don't ask follow-up questions. Make statements that provide roadmaps. Both you and your "partner" will make mistakes along the way; don't dwell on them but move forward, careful to always make him look good.

Lastly, be of service by making it personal. Get your listener to grasp how your ideas will have a purposeful effect that will improve the lives of real people.

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One comment on “Creating Influence, Part Two”

  1. When giving training, I often teach that we can't change or control people, but we can certainly influence them.
    I love the idea of a brief but "sticky" presentation. Keeping it simple, as the writer said, definitely makes it easier to be 'sticky'.

    I'd like to ask though: the writer said, "Don't ask follow-up questions." What would an example be of the follow-up questions he referred to?

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