Influence for Professional and Personal Success

I’ve been very busy lately, lots of travel and presentations revolving around influence and persuasion. Several weeks ago I was in Chicago for the NAMIC (National Association of Mutual Insurance Companies) Personal Lines Convention. I followed that up with at trip to Penn State University where I got to address members of the Keystone Insurers Group. Next it was a small business owner’s event hosted by EasyIT in my hometown, Columbus, Ohio. As you read this it’s very likely I’m in Milbank, S.D., training State Auto field people. Then I’m off to Greensboro, N.C., next week for another Keystone conference. I get to finally catch my breath in late May!

When I address groups to talk about influence, early on I let them know I’m passionate about the subject for a couple reasons. First and foremost, I’ve seen the application of the principles of influence lead to success for me personally as well as for people I’ve trained. When an insurance agent tells me they landed a large account after trying for three years because they used what I taught them or another says they applied what they learned and it worked like magic you can understand we all feel pretty darn good.

Another reason I’m passionate about influence and persuasion is because understanding and ethically applying the principles of influence will not only help your career, it can help your personal life as well. After all, when you leave work you’re still interacting with people and quite often you’re making requests of them, hoping to hear, “yes!” Lots of training programs can help you succeed on the job but not too many can promise to make you better away from the office too.

Aristotle, a pretty smart guy, said persuasion was, “the art of getting someone to do something they wouldn’t ordinarily do if you didn’t ask.” That’s a pretty solid definition. After all, if someone is already doing what you want then there’s no need to ask, no need to persuade. The problem is, too often they’re not doing what you’d like. The challenge for you is how to make your request.

I would differ from Aristotle on one point; art vs. science. My definition of persuasion would, “the science of getting someone to do something they wouldn’t ordinarily do if you didn’t ask.” Social psychologists have been studying the science of influence for more than six decades now. Based in the vast research we know there are better ways – “Best Practices,” if you will – when it comes to making requests of others.

I’m not a social psychologist; I’m a sales coach and sales trainer. I immerse myself in books dealing with psychology with an eye towards how to take what I’m learning and apply it to the real world – professionally and personally. If you’ve followed this blog for any length of time then you know I write primarily about business applications but also devote a good deal to personal issues like parenting. I do this because I so clearly see the principles of influence helping in both areas.

Fortunately for me most people don’t know much about the science and are eager to learn. I opened by saying I’ve been on the road a lot lately and something caught my eye during my travels that I want to share with all of you as a clear way of demonstrating the application of influence could make a big difference.

I recently stayed at a hotel conference center called The Penn Stater. When I walked into my room I noticed a placard in the bathroom that encouraged guests to consider reusing towels to help the environment. That’s a worthy cause but unfortunately the hotel bungled away an opportunity to move more people towards that environmentally friendly action.

I wrote about a similar situation two years ago in an article called Cruising Along with Influence just after taking a Royal Caribbean vacation. Neither Royal Caribbean nor The Penn Stater took advantage of the science that tells us there are more effective ways to change behavior than just appealing to saving the environment for future generations.

A study was conducted on this very subject in an attempt to determine the most effective messaging to get hotel guests to reuse their towels on their first night staying at the hotel. In the study, door hangers were used just like they were with Royal Caribbean and The Penn Stater. In the study one door hanger used a message with only an environmental appeal, “Help Save the Environment,” followed by information on the importance of the environment. Going green is prominent today so that message was somewhat effective and towel reuse went up 37.2%.

A second message was tested, one that engaged the principle of consensus. The principle of consensus tells us people’s actions are influence by what others are doing. This door hanger read, “Join Your Fellow Guests in Helping Save the Environment.” Below the heading it mentioned 75% of guests had participated in the new towel reuse program at some point during their stay. This message was much more effective because towel reuse rate was 44.0% on the first night.

In slight variation of that second door hanger another message was tested, one that stated 75% of the guests in that particular room had participated. When that message was used the towel reuse went up to 49%! That’s nearly a 33% increase over the environmentally friendly message just because a few words were changed. If you knew you could change your message – at no cost – and get a 33% increase in response wouldn’t that be the smart thing to do?

This is just one simple example of how theory becomes practice. There’s no guarantee you’ll get the same boost as studies show but it’s almost guaranteed you’ll get better results than you’re currently getting because the science says so. And who knows, you might get lucky and have even better results!

Brian, CMCT
Helping You Learn to Hear “Yes”.

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