When we come into this world as babies, we believe that the earth revolves around us, and from the way that most parents treat their newborns, I guess that’s true to some extent. As we grow out of babyhood, we gradually become aware of other people, and our concept of existence evolves into a view that the world is made up of people, and we’re people just like everyone else. Unfortunately, that’s incorrect. Sure, we’re all people, but it’s not true that everyone is the same.
Now it’s obvious that we don’t all look alike, and we don’t have the same interests and talents. But somehow we retain one last misconception about people that goes deeper than looks and talents: we believe that we can persuade others in the same way that we like to be persuaded.
A long time ago, at the very start of my career, I was fortunate enough to be able to take a course called “Positive Power and Influence,” and I have derived tremendous value from that course ever since that time. The idea of the course was that there are four basic ways that we can influence others, but that we rely primarily on just a few of those styles – typically those influence styles that we find appealing in persuading ourselves, or those styles which were used on us by our parents when we were children. The course helped me explore all of the styles, and learn how to use the ones with which I was less familiar.
The four influence styles taught in the course were:
- Assertive persuasion – presenting the facts and a logical argument
- Common vision – painting a vision for a better future, and inspiring others to pursue that vision
- Participation and trust – relating to others on a personal level, and having them follow your direction because they value and trust you
- Rewards and punishments – the carrot and stick approach
Because I had an IT background, of course my primary style was assertive persuasion – the use of logic (if you’re in IT, then you probably rely on this style as well). And since at that time I hadn’t quite grasped the concept that others might like to be persuaded differently, I used that style in almost all of my communication: upwards to higher management, sideways to my peers, and downward to my subordinates. Sometimes it worked, but often it didn’t, and I was left wondering how I could be more effective in presenting my logical argument. When I took the course it opened my eyes to the fact that my influence failures weren’t all related to logic failures; most of them were due to a poor choice of influence style for the particular situation.
The concepts I’ve just talked about may sound familiar to some of you who have taken courses on how to alter your sales approach to accommodate different types of buyers. It’s a similar idea: some people want to buy logically, based on a comparison of features, while other people want to trust their salesperson and believe that he or she is selling the best product for the customer’s needs. And still other people just want to have the salesperson treat the customer like royalty, regardless of the benefits of the product. There is no one “right” sales style to use in every situation – just different styles that should be used depending on the situation and the particular customer.
I’ve heard this described another way as a variation on the Golden Rule. The Golden Rule, of course, is to “do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” and it’s good at pointing out that you shouldn’t be self-centered and treat people as inferior. But when you think about it, it doesn’t go far enough. It still makes the babyhood assumption that we’re all the same. What it ought to say is to “do unto others as they would have you do unto them.” In other words, treat them the way they want to be treated – not the way you would want to be treated.” That’s really the underlying idea behind the different styles in the “Positive Power and Influence” course: you have to find out how others want to be persuaded, and then adjust your style to persuade them.
Whether you’re leading them to a bold new future, or just trying to get them to follow some new process, the issues are the same. In order to get someone to do something that is foreign to them, or that is perceived as undesirable, you have to use an appropriate persuasion technique. In some cases, you will have to use multiple persuasion techniques to accommodate each of the personal styles in your organization.
For an IT person who deals with very logical and consistent computers, this may be an uncomfortable concept. But remember: Technology is all about people, processes and change. The hardware and software are just a means to an end. If you can’t persuade others, then you can’t be successful in IT, or for that matter, in any other profession.