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Influence is your Superpower
Whether you’re the CEO of a startup company, an entrepreneur, a sales and marketing professional, a husband or wife, a mother or a child, influence is your superpower. This superpower, if wielded correctly, can be transformative. It can create big changes, give birth to movements, touch hearts, and change minds without having to apply any element of force.
This week, we feature an insightful Gong that will develop your confidence, put you in a position of influence to win hearts, and transform you into a more likable person. You will get better at managing conversations, interviews, negotiations, or relationships.
When you were a baby you were so tiny and vulnerable. You couldn’t feed, clothe, or bathe yourself. On your own, you wouldn’t have survived long. But you had a superpower: influence. You used your superpower to persuade your caretakers to look after you. At first, your tools of influence were rudimentary. Basically, you cried a lot. But it got the job done.
As a toddler, you honed your powers of influence. Bargaining, charming, blackmailing, negotiating: you tried it all. You didn’t always get what you wanted. But often enough, you did.
As you grew up, however, you may have lost touch with your superpower.
Why? Well, we’re taught that it’s more important to be nice and to share than to get what we want. We’re not taught that we can still be nice, and share, while, at the same time, using our influence to manifest great outcomes for ourselves and for others. But maybe we can have it all.
To influence the minds of people, learn how they think.
Influencing the minds of people begins with understanding how they think. And there’s a good chance you’re thinking about thinking all wrong. Ready for a bit of cognitive science?
There are two basic modes of thought processing. Researchers have labeled these modes System 1 and System 2 but, because that’s not very catchy, we’re going to call them something else.
We’ll call System 1 the Gator Brain. Alligators can weigh up to 999 pounds. But the average gator’s brain is the size of a half tablespoon. Because their small brains need to power their big, hungry bodies, alligators are all about conserving mental energy. To perform everyday tasks, they rely on instincts and learned reflexes rather than complex cognition. Essentially, whether they’re sunbaking or swimming, alligators spend the majority of their time on autopilot. Their cognitive powers only really kick in when they spot a threat or an opportunity.
Your brain is definitely bigger than half a tablespoon. But it has more in common with an alligator’s brain than you might think. To conserve your mental energy, your brain spends a lot of time in Gator mode.
Whenever you’re doing something habitual to you, like chopping onions, swimming laps, or reading a novel, you’re using instinct and reflex to power through the task. You’re using your Gator Brain.
We’ll call System 2 your Judge Brain. In Judge mode, your brain performs more complex cognitive feats, like analyzing, comparing, questioning, and concentrating. High-level tasks and tasks that you’re not yet proficient in will demand your Judge Brain take over.
Here’s the catch. Most people think that the Judge performs the bulk of the cognitive workload. In reality, we operate far more frequently in Gator mode. Gator Brain is actually your default setting, cognitively speaking. In fact, nothing even gets sent to your Judge Brain without your Gator Brain’s approval.
When we come to someone with a proposal, a pitch, or a request, we often try to appeal to the Judge. But we might see better results if we addressed the Gator instead. Remember, every cognitive input, without exception, has to go through the Gator. And the Gator is efficient. Less politely, your Gator brain is seriously lazy.
One corporation turned that laziness to its own advantage with stunning results. In 2015, Pizza Hut was the world’s largest pizza delivery company. Its rival, Dominoes, wanted the top spot.
So, Dominoes introduced the Anyware campaign. The goal? Make it easier than ever to order a pizza. The company figured they already had their customers’ payment information and address. Here’s what they came up with: you could text, or tweet, an emoticon of a pizza to Dominos and – well, there is no and. That was it. Send a pizza emoji, and get your usual order delivered to your door. Sales went up 10 percent in that quarter alone, and just three years later, Dominos knocked Pizza Hut off its perch and became the biggest pizza delivery company in the world.
When you make a proposal graspable, a call-to-action simple, and a decision easy to make, you’ve already increased your chances of success, because you’re appealing directly to the Gator. So before you try and over-complicate things, see if you can find your pizza-emoji-equivalent.
To get something that you want, try asking.
One day, recent MBA graduate Jia Jiang, walked into a Krispy Kreme in Austin, Texas, and ordered donuts in the shape of the Olympic rings. Now, Krispy Kreme doesn’t offer Olympic donuts on their menu. And Jia said he could only wait 15 minutes for his server, Jackie, to create this bespoke treat.
Jackie obliged. What’s more, she told Jia his order was on the house.
What high-level influencing tactic did Jia use to pull this off?
Well . . . he asked.
Influencing someone to deliver what you want can be as simple, and as effective, as asking for it outright. Yet this is a tactic most of us are hesitant to try. Why? Because while our request might be met with a yes, it’s possible it will be met with a no. We’re afraid of hearing no. No feels like a personal rejection. And rejection is scary.
In fact, fear of rejection is what prompted Jia to walk into the Krispy Kreme in the first place. After graduating from an MBA program, Jia had big dreams of becoming an entrepreneur. But his first pitch to a venture capitalist was met with a “no thanks.” Jia felt so deflated he almost gave up on his dream for good. He didn’t want to hear another no. But then he realized his fear of rejection was holding him back. He decided to do something about it. The end result was “100 Days of Rejection Therapy.”
Every day for a hundred days, Jia approached someone with a request so outlandish he was sure their answer would be no. He figured the more rejections he accrued, the less scary rejection would seem. His requests to make an announcement over Costco’s intercom and become a live model in an Abercrombie & Fitch store were rejected. But some of Jia’s requests were met with a yes. Jackie at Krispy Kreme made him that bespoke donut order. A local family let him play soccer in their yard. His neighborhood Starbucks allowed him to act as store greeter – a position that doesn’t actually exist in Starbucks stores.
Deploying your influence effectively means getting comfortable with hearing the word no. You could try a course of radical rejection therapy, like Jia. You can also practice saying no yourself. Try it for 24 hours. Decline every request that doesn’t appeal to you. Don’t offer a qualified yes or try to find an alternate solution. Respond with a firm but polite no. Attending a conference when you’re already overstretched? No! Doing the dishes? Not tonight!
As you reject others, pay close attention to how you’re feeling. When you say no to something, are you rejecting the person who approached you? Does your no express irritation or disgust at the request? Are you saying no irrevocably and permanently? Of course not! No isn’t a dirty word, whether you’re saying it or hearing it.
Once you’re comfortable with saying and hearing the word no, you’ll become more comfortable with making requests. And you might hear yes more often than you think. Out of his 100 days of rejection therapy, Jia ultimately garnered 51 yeses in response to his outlandish requests. Not a bad result! But you might be able to achieve even better odds by learning how to effectively pose your requests. Next, we’ll talk about how to make the right pitch in the right way at the right time.
Pitch smarter, not harder.
Whether you’re asking for a promotion, offering advice, or trying out a new pitch to customers, timing is everything. Case in point: this airfare promotion wouldn’t have been so successful if it were launched on a sunny day.
The internet is saturated with digital tourism campaigns. A Hong-Kong based Filipino airline agency showed just how effective quick thinking and clever timing can be with a guerilla marketing campaign that took things offline.
During one of the wettest days in Hong Kong’s monsoon season, the team took advantage of a break in the rain to take to the streets. They stenciled the sidewalks with a waterproof spray that remained invisible on a dry surface. As the next downpour dampened the sidewalks, their message was revealed in bright yellow letters. It read: It’s sunny in the Philippines. An accompanying QR code sent users to the airline’s website. On a nice day this message might not have had much impact. In the middle of one of the most miserable days of the year? Flight sales through the agency’s website increased by a phenomenal 37 per cent.
The lesson here? Make your pitch when your audience is primed to be receptive. Pitching a travel deal? Do it when your audience is desperate to get away. Pitching your boss for a raise? Try asking her when you’ve just wrapped a successful project and not when she’s trying to cram in a sandwich between back-to-back meetings.
Here are a few more strategies to help you pitch successfully.
To begin with, weed out any diminishing language from your proposal. Phrases like “I was just wondering . . .” or “Would it be possible to . . .” weaken the impact of your pitch. The same goes for qualifying phrases like “kind of,” “it seems,” and “more or less.” And while you’re at it, within reason, avoid the pronoun “I.” Referring constantly to yourself draws your listeners attention away from the content of your pitch and onto you personally. For example, a phrase like “I might be wrong, but . . .” puts a spotlight on your fallibility. On the other hand, a phrase like “Is it possible that . . .” keeps focus on the parameters of your pitch.
Next up, go big with your first ask. Do you need $20,000 seed capital to start a new venture? Ask for $30,000. Why? Well, you might get it! But also because your listener is much more likely to say yes to your request for 20 grand if you’ve already asked for 30. This tactic plays with what we’ll call relative size. $20,000 seems like a whole lot of money. But compared with $30,000 or even $40,000 it doesn’t seem like such an outlandish amount. It also appeals to your listener’s sense of reciprocity. If your first request is rejected, making a smaller second request creates the impression you’ve made a concession to your listener. And if they feel you’ve compromised with them, they’ll be primed to reciprocate and compromise with you in return.
Finally, for big asks you can always rely on the “magic question”: “What would it take . . .?” Let’s say you want to go part-time. Your boss isn’t sure. If you were to ask, “Why can’t I go part time?” you’d likely be met with a list of deterrents. When you ask, “What would it take for me to go part time?” you open up space for your boss to think proactively about your request. Perhaps you’d need to streamline certain processes, train up a more junior team member, or commit to accomplishing a set number of tasks in a week. “What would it take . . .?” is an invitation to collaborate on a problem and find creative solutions. It’s the kind of question that facilitates positive outcomes for everyone involved – influencing at its best.
Frame your concept
Quick: Think of three things that are blue.
Now, think of three things that – just like milk, snow, and marshmallows – are white.
Who knows which blue things you thought of. But you probably thought about milk, snow, and marshmallows when asked you to think of three white things. By framing the request with concrete examples, we influenced your response.
Let’s look at a more high-stakes example of how framing an idea persuasively can influence others.
A few years after he founded Apple in his garage, Steve Jobs was searching for a CEO. In Jobs’s mind only one person fit the bill: John Sculley. One problem – Sculley was already the CEO of PepsiCo, one of the USA’s most successful companies. For Sculley, Jobs’s proposal was a non-starter. Why would he leave one of the most prestigious posts in corporate America to work for a scrappy, unproven start-up?
Sculley declined Jobs’s offer. Multiple times. Jobs persisted. Finally, Jobs hit on the right frame for his request. According to Sculley, he said, “Do you want to sell sugar-water for the rest of your life? Or do you want to come with me and change the world?” For Sculley, that was enough. Up to that point, he’d been concerned with success and stability. Jobs reframed the proposition in a way that made Sculley consider the significance of his work. He jumped at the chance to get on board with Apple.
If you frame a concept, a proposition, or a sales pitch well you can also frame the way others respond to it. Some people know instinctively how to reach for the right frame for the right person at the right time. But if that’s not you, don’t worry. There are three key frames you can use, and I’ll walk you through them now.
The first is monumental. A monumental frame tells us that something is monumentally exciting, monumentally important, monumentally urgent.
A monumental frame can inspire. But a manageable frame motivates. Manageable frames make things feel doable. And when things feel doable, people do them! For many people who live with credit card debt, paying down the balance can feel the opposite of doable, and that’s a real deterrent to doing anything more than making the minimum monthly repayment. A study conducted by Australia’s Commonwealth Bank tried to make debt feel manageable. A group of credit card users were given statements divided into categories and encouraged to pay off one category at a time. Perhaps they couldn’t pay off the whole balance in a given month . . . but they could pay off all their entertainment expenses. Compared to the control group, this group settled their overall debts 12 percent faster.
Finally, there’s the mysterious frame. And this one’s pretty simple. Our lazy Gator Brain doesn’t always bite when something is framed as important or healthy or practical. But something mysterious, new, and exciting? Now you’ve got the Gator’s attention! Framing your pitch as a question that piques curiosity or a mystery that’s going to be revealed will certainly get you a few bites. If you’ve ever found your cursor hovering over a clickbait headline beginning with “You’ll never believe . . .” you’ll know how powerfully irresistible the mysterious frame can be! Just be careful not to oversell on mystery or underdeliver on actual substance – catching attention is one thing, compromising your credibility is another.
When in doubt, you can cover all your bases by combining frames. Ever heard of Marie Kondo? Her book on the art of streamlining and decluttering, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, has sold more than 11 million copies. And its success might be down to that catchy title that combines all three frames. Life-changing is monumental, magic is mysterious, and tidying-up feels pretty manageable. The same book, titled House Organization Techniques, probably wouldn’t have flown off the shelves at the same rate. See? It’s all about the frame.
Have you ever heard of Aikido? It’s a modern Japanese martial art. The objective is to defend yourself from your opponent by redirecting their flow of movement in a way that also protects them from injury. As you exert your influence on others you will, sooner or later, meet resistance and objections. You don’t need to shut down the minute you’re met with resistance. At the same time, you don’t need to aggressively counter-attack others’ objections. Instead, like an Aikido master, you can respect and redirect resistance where you find it, to come to a mutually agreeable solution.
Ethan Brown is the CEO of Beyond Meat and, when it comes to deflecting market resistance, he’s as skilled as an Aikido master. Brown knew that his product, a plant-based meat substitute, would be a tough sell. Sure, it’s great for the environment and for people’s health.
But Brown had observed how other meat substitutes that sold themselves as the greener, healthier choice were popular among vegetarians and vegans but provoked a defensive response from meat-eaters. Being told that their current diet was unhealthy and irresponsible made meat-eaters feel scolded rather than motivated to buy the product.
So Brown abandoned that sales angle. He anticipated many meat-eaters would resent giving up the meat they enjoyed. Rather than focusing on abstinence, in a way that, for example, the Meatless Mondays campaign does, Brown framed his product with the word “Beyond,” suggesting an enhanced product. The other big objection Brown anticipated? The taste. By partnering with fast food franchises, Brown created meatless versions of typical treats like pizzas and subs, convincing the public that plant-based meat substitutes could be as tasty and indulgent as regular meat. In 2019, Beyond Meat’s sales reached $98.5 million.
Like Brown, you can anticipate, deflect, and reframe objections. Try these simple tricks:
If a listener meets your proposal with resistance, don’t try and downplay their feelings. Acknowledge their resistance and, if possible, articulate it. Try it the next time you sense resistance, with a simple sentence like, “You might think I’m too young to step into a managerial role” or “I understand that we’re asking for a lot of money.” When you put someone’s resistance into words, you disarm them. What’s more, you silence the negative voice in their mind, freeing them to focus on your actual proposition.
Before you ask something, ask permission to ask. Every day we’re bombarded with requests and offers. Sometimes the Gator Brain kicks in and we respond to every new proposition with an automatic no. So, instead of asking, “Can I have a pay rise?” try asking “Could we have a conversation about my pay this week?” If they say yes, they’ve tacitly agreed to considering your request. If they say no, they haven’t shut down the possibility of a pay rise – just the possibility of talking about it this week.
When you come to someone with a proposition, affirm their freedom of choice. Use a phrase like “No pressure” or “Feel free to say no.” Of course, your listener is free to say no to you, whether you affirm their choice or not. But a blunt request may make your listener feel coerced and resentful. Emphasizing that you don’t want to pressure them into agreeing sets the tone for a resentment-free interaction.
Truly effective influencers are skilled at reaching their own objectives in a way that uplifts others, conveying their opinions while genuinely listening to competing views, and turning resistance into authentic support for their ideas. This kind of influence is within your reach, if you practice the skills and strategies necessary to harness it.
Actionable advice: Everything is negotiable
Where do most negotiations stall? At the conference table? In the lead-up? No and no. Most negotiations stall before they’ve started because we don’t realize a negotiation is possible. Here’s a secret: everything – more or less – is negotiable. A salary offer is negotiable. The terms of your mortgage are negotiable. The seat you’re assigned on an airplane is negotiable. Get in the habit of asking “Is there room to negotiate here?” The results might surprise you.