Decoding influence – understanding how people judge you and how you can modify that

In 1984, Robert Cialdini wrote the enduring classic Influence, one of the bestselling books of all time on the topic. This 30-year-old book still sells copies today.
In the book Cialdini, Professor of Psychology and Marketing at Arizona State University isolates six principles he calls ‘weapons of influence’.
For example, one principle called social proof is the principle that we are swayed by what everyone else is doing. The implication is that saying “we make the world’s best burgers” may be less persuasive than “one billion burgers sold”. If everyone else is eating them then they must be good!
Many years ago, we puzzled over these six influence principles – ostensibly a helpful but disconnected list – wondering if there was a pattern between them. One pattern that emerged was that four of the principles related to how you may craft a message (the aforementioned example of social proof for instance) and the other two principles related to how the messenger themselves was perceived.

The Message vs The Messenger

Hmmm…message vs messenger – interesting.
As a TA (Talent Acquisition) professional or leader, you are a “messenger” to your candidates and to other stakeholders. Your message (WHAT you say and HOW you say it) is a very important part of your influence. Usually, when we want to be more influential, we focus on what we say, we write scripts, we design pitches that are more likely to persuade, influence and get results.
But what is also critical (and so often overlooked) is you as the “messenger” – who you are and how you are perceived by your stakeholders has an enormous impact on how influential you are. It is how they assess you as a person, how you present, how you show up and how you behave.

Why is the messenger such an important part of the equation?

Nobel Prize winning behavioural economist Daniel Kahneman characterises the human brain as a prediction machine. In each moment we are obsessed with predicting what will happen in the next moment.
When it comes to human beings, we are obsessed with judging other people and what we think they will do in the future. We are making these predictions about others all the time and they are simultaneously trying to make these predictions about us.
We are assessing candidates and even colleagues, trying to predict what they will be like, how they will perform. And they are assessing us at the same time.
So, why is this so important for your influence? Why should you care if people are making positive predictions and assessments about us?
Because people will not believe the message unless they first believe the messenger.
Put another way, people will not hear and believe what you say, unless they first believe and trust you, until they have assessed and predicted that you are trustworthy and competent.
So how can I make sure that all stakeholders are making positive assessments of me as a messenger?

The mechanics of judgement

If we want others to make positive judgements about us, we need to know how they make those judgements.
Judgements are made by asking the following two fundamental questions:

  • What are this person’s intentions towards me?
  • Do they have the ability to carry out those intentions?

Let me explain further by way of a thought experiment:
Imagine you are a member of a tribe. You live on the grassy plains of a distant land, with no modern technology and with little to no contact with other tribes. One day over the horizon you see someone approaching. It could be a member of the tribe returning from a hunt. As their silhouette gets larger though you realise from their gait that they are a stranger.
A stranger approach…

What question might you be asking yourself about this person? What do you want to know about them? We posed this question to thousands of people and here are some of their answers:

  • What do they want?
  • Are they friend or foe?
  • Are they a threat?
  • Are they alone? (are there any others following further back?)
  • Do they have any weapons?
  • Do they have food?
  • Do they bear gifts?
  • Are they edible?

The edible question comes up more than you might expect! Usually shouted out by the class clown and always followed by the tittering laughter of their colleagues.
Have a look at that list for a moment. Notice that the nature of the questions is pretty similar. The people’s immediate concerns are about the stranger’s intentions towards them and whether the stranger can follow through on those intentions.
Also notice what people don’t guess. It is very rare – very rare – for someone to suggest this question: “does the stranger need help?” The questions listed above aren’t the most generous or welcoming, are they? These answers are pretty true to the research.
So, for you in your role as a TA professional, have a think about:

  1. How do you show your candidates that your intentions towards them are positive and good? How to you show that you have their best interests at heart? And then…
  2. How do you demonstrate that you have the ability to follow through on those intentions? That you have the commitment and the capability to get the results you intend?

These are the considerations for you as TA professionals to become a more influential messenger. They are also what we shall be looking into in our session at the upcoming ATC2019 conference.
I look forward to sharing them with you!
Cover image: Shutterstock

Michelle will be running an interactive session on the Smiling Ox Paradox at the ATC2019. Don’t miss out on this interactive workshop that will transform you into a compelling and persuasive leader! Get your tickets here
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