Influencer The Power to Change Anything by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, David Maxfield, Ron McMillan and Al Switzler
Whether you’re a CEO, a parent, or just someone who wants to make a difference, you probably wish you had more influence in your life.
The truth is we all want to be more influential. Hardly a day passes that we don’t try to exert influence on others to change their behavior. We also spend a lot of time trying to influence ourselves to make sacrifices in the short-term, in hopes of seeing payoffs down the road. We regularly try to convince ourselves to forego short-term pleasures in order to lose weight or save more money. We struggle to take charge of our tempers around our children. We strive to become a relevant voice in our friends’ lives, and try to model good behaviors as best we can.
Consciously or not, we never stop trying to exert influence. It’s just what we do.
Unfortunately, in spite of the fact that barely an hour goes by each day when we’re not attempting to influence ourselves, or folks around us, most of us are pretty darn lousy at it. Even among the minority of us who would perhaps be considered “influential” by our peers, most of the time we’re just “winging it.” We may have acquired some of the basic tools to be moderately influential, but we’re rarely conscious of what we’re doing, and thus we tend to apply our skills inconsistently, and ineffectively. In short, there’s lots of room for improvement.
On the market today are hundreds, if not thousands, of self-help books that claim to teach us how to “win friends and influence people.” Some of these offerings are better than others. But for the most part, these books are based on showing how to improve our verbal persuasion skills, or employ slick negotiation tactics.
Yes, having good communication skills is important. But according to the authors of a groundbreaking new book Influencer: the Power to Change Anything, you’ll never convince anyone to make a real, lasting change through mere words alone.
Let’s face it: if anyone would know a thing or two about influence, it’s Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, David Maxfield, Ron McMillan, and Al Switzler. They’re founders of VitalSmarts, a leader in corporate training services that’s taught more than two million people and worked with dozens of Fortune 500 companies. They’re also the co-authors of the New York Times bestseller Crucial Conversations, and its hit follow-up Crucial Confrontations, which showed many thousands of people how to create dramatic, long-lasting change at work, at home, and in their communities by implementing proven influence strategies.
The authors’ latest book, Influencer, taps into the skills of hundreds of successful change agents from corporate America — and from organizations around the world — and combines them with decades of top-caliber social science research. Their lofty goal was to develop a coherent, concise and portable model for changing behaviors; a model that virtually anyone could easily learn, and apply.
Influencer is divided into two parts. The first part sets the stage, and explains why changing people’s actions must always start by focusing on people’s behaviors. The second part of the book goes on to identify, and then teach us how to effectively manipulate, the six timeless sources of influence that most affect people’s behaviors, namely: Values, Skills, Support, Teamwork, Incentives, and the Environment. Best of all, the authors show us how to locate these six sources of influence using interesting, real life examples, and then explain step-by-step how to apply them to solve the most intractable problems.
Part I: The Power to Change Anything
As the authors have often observed, when many of us encounter difficult challenges in our lives, we routinely fall back to the advice of a well-worn prayer. That is to say, we ask for “serenity to accept the things we cannot change, the courage to change the things we can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
Suffice it to say, the authors are not big fans of this particular parable.
It’s safe to say that there probably are a few things in our lives that we’ll never be able to change, no matter how hard we try. So there may be something to be said for “having the wisdom” to understand what those things are. The problem is, we tend to lump too many things into that basket. Prematurely seeking serenity can be problematic — we stop trying to solve solvable problems.
In the words of the authors: “Many problems don’t require solutions that defy the laws of nature; they require people to act differently.”
So why do many of us run off prematurely in search of serenity, instead of sticking around and trying to be influencers? The overarching reason is that too many of us fail to perceive ourselves as having any influence. As everyday people, we simply don’t realize that we actually have the power to be positive agents of change in our own lives, and those of others.
To prove their point, the authors traveled the world in search of (mostly) everyday people who were able to solve complex problems that had existed for years, or even centuries. They did so by relying on a handful of powerful influence strategies. These strategies eventually became the basis of their book.
To be clear, Patterson, Grenny, Maxfield, McMillan, and Switzler didn’t discover a magic bullet. Rather, they uncovered a common set of tools that have been proven effective in different combinations, under different circumstances.
The authors also came to understand that the world’s greatest influencers start by focusing on behaviors. They don’t seek to apply an influence strategy until they have clearly defined the underlying behavior they are targeting.
This is different than zeroing-in on outcomes. Effective influencers understand they must focus on the behaviors that enable, or impair, the desired outcome.
“All too often,” say the authors, “failed attempts at influencing others are the direct result of a ‘means/ends’ confusion, where the desired outcome may be obvious, but the means for achieving it remains unclear.” To make their point, the authors cite the example of Ethna Reid, a highly-regarded educator who studied the key essential behaviors that separate effective from non-effective teachers. For five years, Dr. Reid and her team studied and coded the behaviors of high and low performing teachers. In the end they found two critical behaviors that separated the two groups. Specifically, they found that high performing teachers typically distinguish themselves by rewarding their students’ positive performance more frequently. They also discovered that high performing teachers are better at quickly shifting gears between (1) teaching new concepts, and (2) assessing whether their students are grasping those concepts, in order to make immediate, on-the-spot adjustments to their teaching approach, if needed.
In the years that followed, Dr. Reid taught these two vital behaviors to various groups of educators. In turn, student performance was positively impacted.
Examples like this are obviously not limited to the educational arena. Any company or organization can use similar approaches to identify the vital behaviors that underpin desired outcomes. In fact, in many cases, the social science work has already been done. It’s simply a matter of applying it.
Once the driving behaviors are identified, the next step to becoming an influencer involves convincing others to think about the problem differently. The most common approach to convincing others is verbal persuasion. But according to the authors, verbal persuasion is also probably the least effective. When applied incorrectly, it can be perceived as manipulation or nagging.
Personal experience is a much better strategy. For example, they tell the story of how world-renowned social scientist Albert Bandura discovered that people who are terrified of snakes could overcome their fear almost overnight, simply by exposing them to a snake in a very deliberate and careful way. First, they would watch the snake from the doorway, then they would watch someone else handle the snake, then they would walk in the room, and finally they would finally hold the snake. Bandura’s research demonstrated that by creating vicarious experiences (i.e. by creating an opportunity for individuals to watch others having an experience), even the strongest behaviors could be altered.
Part II: The Six Change Strategies
Once we’ve identified a negative underlying behavior, how can we change it?
Not surprisingly, there is no single influence strategy that will be effective in all situations. Often, multiple strategies are needed to address particularly stubborn behaviors. We will now deal with each of the six strategies in turn:
A first step in changing behaviors often involves convincing your target audience that the desired change can be rewarding or pleasurable, as opposed to annoying or personally distasteful. Easier said than done, you might say. Yes, that’s very true. But the authors do offer some concrete advice on how to go about transforming people’s values about a previously disliked behavior.
First, they say it is vitally important to create new experiences by providing individuals with ample opportunities to actually try the behavior. Studies have shown that most of us are surprisingly poor at predicting which stimuli will make us happy, and which won’t. The implication is that most people need to actually try a new food, or pencil, or vacation destination before they can accurately make a judgment. Fascinating research has even been done on hardcore convicts to show that even they don’t seem to realize the real pleasure that leading a straight-and-narrow lifestyle can bring until they actually try it for a while.
The second way to transform people’s values as they relate to a particular behavior, or set of behaviors, is to create new motives. The fact of the matter is, even after trying on a new behavior for size, there’s still a good chance that we will find it boring, or distasteful. This likely stems from the values we hold.
In order to overcome this, it is important to make the new behavior personally relevant so that successfully changing becomes deeply important to our self-concept. So, here is the challenge influencers must master: They must find ways to help individuals see the choices that lie before them as important “moral quests” or “personally defining moments.” Studies have shown that negative, self-destructive behaviors (such as smoking and excessive gambling) are more easily jettisoned once we decide they are not in keeping with our values. Once someone begins to see, and define themselves as “a family man” or an “environmentalist” (to choose but two examples), then behaviors that are inconsistent with one’s personal value framework (e.g. littering) are abandoned.
Contrary to popular belief, people’s resistance to change does not always stem from a lack of personal motivation. Rather, our opposition to change is often the product of a distinct lack of skills. One cannot emphasize enough the importance of skills and ability, say the authors. Many studies have shown that peak performers in virtually every field of human endeavor were able to reach the top not through innate ability or talent, but rather through deliberate practice. For example, most Olympic athletes typically spend their time practicing the skills they have yet to master; whereas the rest of us foolishly tend to work on skills we have already mastered. The same holds true across many other situations.
Changing negative behaviors in ourselves and others requires deliberate and frequent practice (ideally in a low-risk environment). It is simply ridiculous, argue the authors, to expect that people can change through sheer willpower alone.
Our peer groups and business networks have an immense influence on our behaviors and decisions. Perhaps for evolutionary reasons, humans are strongly influenced by the approval of others. This is even true with complete strangers. We can’t help but care what other people think. Great influencers know this about us, and find ways to lever our social networks to their advantage.
According to the authors, levering social networks effectively means enlisting the support of the right individuals. For instance, if you are contemplating a change initiative in your office, convincing the opinion leaders first is key. Bring along a handful of opinion leaders and your influencing task is made that much easier. At the same time, it is important to recognize that some workplace and/or community challenges are so pervasive, and even culturally ingrained, that they may require the support of everyone involved to be successful.
When it comes to teamwork, the sum is usually greater than the whole of the parts. Certain types of problems are so complex that they cannot be solved without help from others. The greatest influencers recognize the power of building cohesive teams, working collaboratively towards solutions.
Paradoxically, while the value of teamwork has been proven time and time again, in North America at least, forming a team to solve a problem is not always an obvious, or easy choice. The authors speculate that this may be due, in part, to the messages we receive through the media. Many of our best known movie and television heroes have fought, and defeated, hordes of enemies all on their own. In this, we are forever celebrating the “rugged individualist” stereotype, which may very well have a dampening effect on the average North American worker’s willingness to enlist the support of others in order to drive significant change.
Well, TV action heroes are one thing. But savvy influencers know better than to turn their backs on the power of teamwork. They’re quick to enlist the help and cooperation of others when facing new or risky challenges. Learn from them.
The first four strategies were focused on changing individual behavior to promote change. But sometimes we also have to change the things around us.
Extrinsic rewards, such as bonuses, perks and recognition programs, can be effective motivators if applied correctly. Unfortunately, extrinsic rewards are too often employed as a first line of action — or an exclusive line of action. In such instances, where there is no parallel focus on behaviors, rewards are doomed to fail. But when used wisely, the authors are strong believers in the power of incentives. This means that incentives should be awarded immediately after a positive behavior is demonstrated, as a means of reinforcing it. Perhaps more obviously, the authors also stress that incentives should be “pleasurable for the individuals receiving them.” In other words, if they’re not valued, they’re wasted.
On the flip side, what are we to do if our one employee who we’re trying so hard to influence never does anything worthy of being rewarded for? If that’s the case, punishment may be a more appropriate action. We must recognize, however, that handing out punishment is often a mixed bag. Hundreds of studies over the years have shown that while punishment may temporarily decrease the frequency of the negative behaviors, the effects are rarely long-lasting and may be accompanied by other unintended consequences. So, in essence, the effects of punishment are somewhat unpredictable. Rewards are usually the safer bet.
The authors’ final influence strategy invites us to consider how the non-human forces in the world around us can be manipulated to effect change in others.
According to Patterson, Grenny, Maxfield, McMillan, and Switzler, this sixth strategy is the one that is most often overlooked. This is a shame, because changing our environment can be a very powerful and long-lasting influence strategy.
We need only consider the example of how changing the proximity of people’s offices can have a huge impact on desired behaviors, such as collaboration. Research conducted at Bell Labs has shown that the single best predictor of two scientists collaborating with one another was actually the distance between their offices. Namely, scientists who worked next to each other were three times more likely to collaborate than those who worked 30 feet from each other. Similar results confirming the importance of proximity have been replicated in other studies. How amazing that something as simple as rearranging a few offices can have such an impact on workplace relationships and professional collaboration!
Whether it’s implementing a new employee rewards program, or making changes in our physical environment, it bears repeating that for most types of problems more than one source of influence may need to be applied to achieve results.
You may not be very influential today, but five of the world’s top motivational experts — namely Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, David Maxfield, Ron McMillan, and Al Switzler — aren’t about to simply let you throw in the towel.
To the extent that you may be ineffective at influencing others — or indeed influencing yourself — it’s a good bet this stems from a lack of proper training, rather than an intrinsic character flaw. The solution lies in continued learning.
As with learning any new skill, we can improve our ability to influence by studying those people who are already good at the job, and borrowing their strategies. Patterson, Grenny, Maxfield, McMillan, and Switzler have already done much of the heavy lifting for us by researching and confirming those strategies. Now it’s up to us to internalize them, and adapt them to our own circumstances. Even if we master just one of the six influence strategies described, the experts say that could well be enough to put us on the road to creating lasting change. If we put into play several of their methods, our chances for improvement only grow. Find a way to combine all six sources of influence, and the sky’s the limit!
At this point, only one question remains. Are you ready to be an influencer?