Having a job title doesn’t make you a leader. If you want other people to follow you, you first have to enlist their support. And while building your networks and listening to others are important components in this, there are other subtleties of human behaviour that come into play when it comes to influencing others.
Firstly, it’s crucial that you consider the people you’ll be interacting with, your situation and your goals before choosing your path forward. It’s also important to understand that people ‘choose’ to do what leaders want them to do. So when people consistently or usually do what you want them to do, they’ll tend to see you as a leader.
There are a number of human tendencies that will help you build your influencing skills. But these should be used with integrity. You and the person you’re trying to influence should both benefit from ‘what you want’. Using these tips to manipulate people - so that they do what you want, regardless of whether it’s good for them or not - will ultimately destroy any trust others may have in you and eliminate your ability to lead others effectively.
There are two human tendencies that are diametrically opposed, but that may get you to the same end. One is the tendency to say ‘yes’ after having said ‘no’ and the other is the tendency to say ‘yes’ after having said ‘yes’. Wait…what?
The first tendency appears to stem from the fact that saying ‘no’ to someone makes us feel uncomfortable, if not a little guilty. For example, I went to the supermarket the other day and there, sitting at a table by the front door, were a number of small girls selling Girl Scout cookies. I REALLY love those thin mint cookies, but they are NOT on my diet, so when I was approached, I ducked my head, mumbled something unintelligible, and hurried into the store. As I was checking out, the cashier asked if I would contribute $1 to a local food bank. Normally, I don’t, but this time I did.
You may not be trying to sell cookies, but there are a few clear messages here. First, don’t always go back to the people who have said ‘yes’ to you in the past. Oddly enough, the people who have said ‘no’ to you previously may be more inclined to do what you want.
The second tendency - to say yes once we’ve said yes - appears to be related to two factors. One is ‘acquiescence bias’ and the other is the tendency towards consistency. Acquiescence bias refers to a person’s propensity to agree with a position that is presented to them. It’s possible that this is driven by the respondent not wanting to offend the interviewer or through an assumption that the interviewer is an expert (and, therefore, the respondent wants to give/agree with the correct answer). In any case, the propensity is there. The second tendency appears to be related to our desire to be, or appear to be, consistent (or, possibly, rational). Whatever the reason, studies have consistently shown that once we’ve said yes, our tendency is to say yes again.
Next, you should consider the rule of reciprocity. If you hear no, don’t start to argue, or present all of your reasons why you should be hearing yes, or simply walk away - be prepared to use the rule of reciprocity. This rule describes an inclination that many of us feel: we want to do something for someone who’s done something for us. You can use this rule in two ways. First, think about the person you want to engage. Is there something you could offer to do for them that would predispose them to agree to your request? Don’t try to disguise what you’re doing - most people will recognise the exchange effort you’re making - but if you know the person well enough, you may be able to come up with an offer they won’t want to refuse.
The second way to use this rule is through staging requests. If you make a second request that’s smaller than the first one, most of us will consider this a concession or a way of doing something for us and we’re more likely to say yes. If you’re asking for a relatively small thing, you may want to ask for a bigger thing first. You may just get it, but if you don’t, once the person says no to that big request, they’re far more likely to say yes to the smaller thing (which was what you wanted all along).
If the request involves a group of people, try to make sure that at least one of the people in the group is someone who is likely to agree and who is likely to respond quickly. This will generally predispose other respondents to agree as well. If you can identify a thought leader as the rapid, positive responder, so much the better. This may require having a conversation with one person ahead of time or may require enlarging a group, but the payoff may well be that you’ll actually get all of those people to that important meeting.
The third tip has to do with timing. By the end of the day, most of us suffer from a degree of decision fatigue. If you can stage your request for the morning, you’re more likely to get a positive reception. Pay attention also to the schedule of the person or people you’re dealing with. Are they in the midst of a crisis or on their way to a meeting? If you have a complex question or issue to discuss, make sure they have time to listen to you.
So, here are your basic rules: First, know what it is that you actually want. This sounds simple but we frequently spend very little time getting clarity around the specifics of what we want and what the minimum is that we can settle for. Second, think about who you want to ask. What has your history been with them - do they owe you under the rule of reciprocity or do you owe them? Have they usually said yes to you or are they more likely to say no and how can you leverage that information? Third, consider when and where you are going to try to get your yes. What do you know about the other demands on their time? Is a public forum likely to work for you or against you?
Remember, the goal is not to manipulate people but to act with integrity at all times. By following these tips, you’ll be able to lead others more effectively, with or without hierarchical authority.