HYCS #14 – The Best Way to Influence a Group

HYCS #14 – The Best Way to Influence a Group

Influence, persuasion, manipulation, WIIFM, tomato, tomahto – it’s tempting to call the whole thing off.  But there’s a better way.

Word Count:  976
Reading Time: 4 minutes
Assignment Time: 3-20 minutes

I love the reading the dictionary.  My favorite is a large, heavy, American Heritage dictionary with the little colored pictures in the margin and feisty notes from the usage committee.  In the dictionary, boundaries between words are crystal clear.  I think of these three words as being on a continuum from gentle to harsh:

Influence – Power to sway or affect based on prestige, wealth, ability or position.

Persuade – To win someone over as by reasoning or personal forcefulness.

Coerce – To force to act or think in a certain way by use of pressure, threats or intimidation.

In the dictionary, the distinctions are clear.  In practice, it can be hard to distinguish between these 3.  Your attempt to coerce may not move me.  My attempt to influence may overwhelm you.  Any of these 3 can become manipulative and feel awful to the recipient.

Yet, as a consultant you are there to affect your client’s thinking.  It’s a pickle. A conundrum.  A paradox.

I find influencing, persuading or coercing others doesn’t produce lasting results.  If they agree to do something, it doesn’t get done.  If I think they’ve understood, I find they haven’t.  But when I choose mutualism over being influential, persuasive or coercive, the follow-through is absolute.

Mutualism – An association between organisms of two different species in which each member benefits.

Mutualism is a state of mind in which I value equally your interests and mine and commit to finding a way to honor them both.  You need it by Friday and I’m on vacation for the rest of the week.  I wonder what we’ll come up with if neither of us caves?

Mutualism in meetings is not for the fainthearted.

I’m facilitating a meeting of three groups who have been told how they are to work together.  It’s a national model and they have no choice about the change.   They don’t want to make this change, but everyone is going through the steps or wrapping their heads around the change.

Almost everyone.  I’ve got one rogue table group who is refusing to list the pros and cons of working together.  I inquire.  I coach.  I cajole.  I persuade with all my might.  They do not budge.  They look, feel and act like a different species, a secretive, resistant one.  I drop my resistance to them and encourage them to keep working on their list.  I commit to protecting their interests, even though I don’t yet know what they are.

My client, the Director of these three groups starts to freak out.

“We’re losing them!  The other groups are getting nervous.  Do something.”

I announce: “We have a table group who is working on a different assignment.  I’ve tried to talk them out of it, but they won’t budge.  I suspect what they are working on will be highly valuable to us.  Let’s hear from all the other groups first.”

The lists from the other groups are good enough, but without substance or fire.  The momentum they generate won’t last a week.   Still, they give us just enough to get started with.  As I turn to the rogue group, the room is very still.  The instigator stands to read their list.  On it is everything they fear they will lose if they join forces with the other groups:  Competence, control, autonomy.  Normal stuff.  Human stuff.  Necessary stuff.  I could hug them.

Heads are nodding as the instigator finishes the list.  Conversation erupts.  “I thought that too, but it wasn’t the assignment.”  “I’m worried about that too.”  Finally someone turns to me and asks “We’re all concerned about these things.  What can we do about it?”

“Let’s ask the group who came up with the list.  They’ve had the longest time to think about them.  What can we do about these concerns?”

Their excellent suggestions formed the first draft of the working agreement between the three groups.  This list had legs.

It was mutualism that made the difference.

See, I can tell you that you should use meeting processes like round robin until you’re tired of hearing it.  But until you understand why you are using meeting processes, and what you are hoping to accomplish through them, they probably won’t work for you.

Every meeting is an adventure in mutualism.  The more you make room for each person’s point of view, the faster the group can knit people together.  That’s what meeting processes do:  They make the work the group is doing transparently, obviously fair.  Technique and process alone won’t do that.  You’ve got to make mutualism your personal goal and the goal of every meeting.  When you do, you’ll find yourself in the midst of a motivated, energized meeting.  You’ll never need to say “buy – in“ again.

Mutualism makes room for everyone’s point of view without compromising the whole.  It’s a consultant’s stock in trade.

Developing mutualism

Mutualism requires two species with different needs and ideas.  After they have listed their separate qualities and needs, it will become obvious how they can benefit each other.

I think it’s impossible to hold the space open for mutualism without using structured meeting processes.  The urge to seek commonalities and smooth over conflict is too strong.

On the phone

It’s even more important to use processes on the phone.   You can hold the space for mutualism over the phone. To your clear intention, add round robin and small group/pair work with a report out.

Your Assignment

1. Use round robin in a phone meeting.  You’ll need to create a virtual seating chart, then rehearse the order so people know who they follow for their turn to speak.

2.  In meetings you attend or lead, look for the mutuality between participants.  It may be lurking under the pretense of commonality.  Viva le differences!