The Art Of Influencing Others – Lesson 3

In the previous posts Lesson 1 and Lesson 2, I talked about how you can exert influence on people around you and how you can push change that is needed to move your team in a direction that the business requires. Today I will talk about how you can influence people without even talking to them. Focus on the physical environment.

Shape the environment, shape the people

We are all getting influenced by the environment around us. DNA gave us the basics of who we are but since our births there were people and circumstances in our lives who shaped us into the people we are today. This means that if you manage to surround yourself by supporting environment you can grow faster and in the desired direction than if you stayed in environment that holds you back. And the same obviously applies to your team.

The impact of environment is often very subtle but still can influence our behavior quite significantly. If you sit in a room with ten other people who are totally focused on their work, chances are you will succumb to the pressure of environment and will also work. If you are eating alone from a big plate with no frame of reference you will gobble up significantly more unhealthy food than if you go to a restaurant with couple of vegetarian friends who eat very healthy. If you go to a local library with quiet atmosphere where people sit reading you will immediately tone down your voice. Simply put, the environment has huge impact on the way we behave and that means huge opportunity to use it in influencing others.

Take the choice away

In my previous post I talked about how important it is to give people a choice. Choice to act or not to act, choice to take the path they consider the best, choice to select the appropriate means and choice to shape their own future. However when it comes to environment you are creating around the people it is best to take the choice away. To influence vital behaviors you have higher chance of succeeding if you create physical environment where people don’t have a choice but to follow the desired behavior.

Having too many choices will generally work against you when pushing a change. To illustrate just think about this scenario. If you want your family to have a healthy lives you do best to remove from the house anything that goes against that goal and limit the choice of the hungry kids to pick between and apple and an orange, rather than apple, orange and chocolate bar.

Distance matters

The quality and number of relationships is directly tight to the physical distance of both parties and frequency of communication. The boss who sits in the middle of the team and interacts on daily basis is more likely to be able to influence the team much more than someone who sits remote and interacts once a week over the phone.

As I mentioned in Physical Distance In Management Matters it is nearly impossible to manage teams remotely and one of the main reasons is that you are giving up a great deal of influence if you remove yourself from the environment where your team lives and works. Your mere physical presence can help tremendously in shaping the team and the culture in a way that is desirable for the long-term success.

If you really need to inflict some change on remote team you want to consider a herald, or change agent, someone from the remote team who will buy into your premise and who has enough social capital and experience to help you locally to get the message across and to be your mini-me on the ground. Relying completely only on phone and remote access will most likely mean a failure in achieving any lasting change.


When you are building the team and want to push the company values to the heads of new employees do you consider the environment they will work in? Does it reinforce the message or goes against it?

Originally posted at LinkedIn.

The Art Of Influencing Others – Lesson 2

What do you do with people who have fixed mindset? Who are rooted in their ways and because they believe they cannot achieve something or that they cannot change, they will not even try? And even if they try they don’t believe in success so they create this self-fulfilling prophesy?

In the first lesson I started to talk about the ways to influence people around you and help them change their behavior. To follow up on the topic I would like to bring your attention to the work done by Kerry Patterson and her team in the “Influencer: The Power to Change Anything”. In this book we are introduced to the six sources of influence: Personal Motivation, Personal Ability, Social Motivation, Social Ability, Structural Motivation, and Structural Ability.

Patterson and her team argue (and provide an evidence) that the truly successful influencers use multiple strategies how to influence people and institute lasting changes. If you want to shape the world around you focus not just on the individual you want to help and his motivation and ability but consider the social and physical environment this individual lives in. I will not run through the six sources of influence, for that you can read the book, but I will talk about some of the points that I find most important.

You cannot motivate people

In How Can You Motivate Others? You Can’t! I talked about how impossible it is to motivate someone. What you can do however is to create an environment, processes and social structures that will help to engage the employee. Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi who coined the term “flow” and spend his life trying to figure out what does it take to enjoy something, discovered that almost anything can be enjoyable as long as it can have challenging goals and frequent feedback. We would call it today “gamification”.

If you ever watched a soccer match or other sports that are for their participants in its core hard, until you add a scoreboard to provide feedback, you know what I’m talking about. Something that is in its core meaningless can be turned into something people enjoy playing and watching just by providing frequent feedback and clear goal to be better than the other guy.

Give people a choice

To be able to influence people you need to approach them as human beings and not as a number in a spreadsheet. This happens a lot in the corporate world when decisions about lives of others are done through “dehumanizing” them and talking about numbers and not actual names. “I don’t need these two resources on my project anymore,” is easier to say than “I don’t need Peter and Paul.” However, by doing this you are also giving up, part of your motivation to care about what happens to them, and ultimately you are giving up your influence and ability to change the situation.

By nature, we have an internal desire to do what is right. Unless we are sociopaths our value system is usually a very good compass to guide us through life in a socially acceptable behavior. We are able to make great sacrifices and do the right thing if we can chose to do so. Choice is a very powerful tool when influencing others. But choice means that you deal with people and not resources.

Influence the influencers

When trying to create a large scale change you need help. You need to influence first people who will then help you push the change to the rest of the organization. You don’t want to focus you influencing efforts on the geeky innovators since even though they may embrace it they don’t have the social influence to spread the adoption. You also don’t want to waste too much time to going alone against the vast majority of people who are resistant to change.

Where you want to focus is on group you may call the early adopters. These are the people with open minds who are willing to consider change and who are also well connected with their environment. These are the opinion leaders. If you get these on your side, the task will become much easier. Simply put, it is not just the message you are communicating but it is also how and most importantly who communicates.

If you have a team of hundred people it should be enough to find five to ten influencers (formal and informal leaders) who should you work with to get them on board and then let them influence the rest of the team. They are the ones who are engaged, opinionated, well connected and respected. What happens when you ignore them? They will still have opinions and they will still influence others, that is what they do, but they won’t be on your side.

Are you an opinion leader?

To be seen as a leader and influencer in your field you need to have couple of basic qualities. You need to have the domain knowledge and you need to be trustworthy. With these attributes and a bit of enthusiasm and confidence you have a high chance of significantly influence the people around you. The funny thing is you will do it whether you want it or not. If people see you are enthusiastic about something you have a good knowledge of, and they trust your judgment, chances are they will follow your lead even against your will.


Do you know who the opinion leaders on your team are? If not, how would you recognize them? And if yes, how do you work with them to push change when needed?

Originally posted at LinkedIn.

The Art Of Influencing Others – Lesson 1

Would you describe yourself as able to influence events around you? If yes, how do you do it? And if not, why not? We go through our lives and exert influence on everything and everyone around us. However, how much influence each of us has depends on the effort we put into it and means we use. In fact, most people would very rarely put in the effort to make a significant change and be truly influential. In most situations it is easier to invent ways how to cope with something we don’t like rather than to influence the environment in a way that things change.

You can’t change how people behave

The one sentence you hear pretty often when talking with managers is “you can’t change people”. And indeed if you like to drink and I come to you and tell you “you shouldn’t drink, please stop,” things will not change. And if I repeat it often enough you may start drinking even more just to spite me. For me to be able to influence you and help you to deal with your drinking problem I need to change not what you do, but what you think. And that one, even though it sounds even more difficult, is definitely doable. In fact, one can argue that politicians, media, or your kids are doing it all the time.

Understand the big picture

To be able to change someone’s behavior you need to see things in perspective, see the complete picture, and answer the basic question of “why”. People behave in a certain way for a reason, find the reason and you have a good basis of tackling it, changing what they think about the situation and how they react to it.

But it doesn’t end here. Answering “why” is just the first step. The second one is to figure out answer to even more important question: “What must people do differently to change the status quo?” The key is to find the root cause, the critical behavior that creates the current situation and then focus on that single behavior and reasons leading to it to make a lasting change.

It is in the mind

We tend to decide what our behavior should be based on what we believe the consequences will be. If I see a mad dog on the street I will turn around and take a different road as I believe he would bite me and that would be bad. If I see the same mad dog surrounded by couple of people who don’t mind he is there I will probably continue straight on and pass just next to him. My behavior is dictated by this causality effect in my head and since everything in my mind is imagined it can be influenced and changed.

To be able to influence someone’s behavior you need to ensure they can positively answer two simple questions: “Why should I?” and “Can I?” They need to understand what is the benefit for them to change the way they behave and they must believe that they are capable of this change. If they don’t see the reason or don’t think they are capable of doing what you propose then they will not even try.

Forget about words

If you believe you can talk someone into changing their behavior you will most likely fail. Verbal persuasion is more often than not seen as patronizing or even an attack and may end up in exactly the opposite reaction. The best way to make someone to change their behavior is through experience. Personal experience helps in redefining the causality pathways in your mind. If you have a drinking problem because you are stressed out from work and you believe a bottle of whiskey is the best way to relax I can show you that swimming few laps can achieve the same results. Me talking about it or even showing you will not help, you need to get to the pool and try it for yourself. Then there is a chance to change your mind.

If you need to use words, use stories

If you don’t have an easy way to let the person you want to influence experience the world as you experience it and words are the only means at your disposal then use them wisely. Don’t give advice, don’t try to be the guy who should be listened to, but rather tell a realistic story. The story you tell needs to be easily visualized by the person in question. He needs to be able to relate to it, the hero of the story needs to be someone he knows or he could know and the outcome must be something that could easily happen also to him. Vivid stories will transport the person from the role of a listener to the role of a participant and can have a profound and lasting effect.

Should the story be gloomy or positive? Should you focus on the negative outcome of undesired behavior or rather offer a positive message that will lead to a changed behavior and positive solution? You may want to talk about the negative outcome, but you must talk about the positive one. Remember, you need to let people know why they should change but also that they can do it. For more thoughts on story telling you can check Mentoring By Telling Stories.


How do you influence people around you? Are you acting subconsciously or do you have an agenda in mind? For lots of good ideas on influence I suggest you read Influencer: The Power to Change Anything by Kerry Patterson and team.

Originally posted at LinkedIn.