LA 001: How to Influence Anyone to Do Anything

I walked to the front of the meeting room past my muttering colleagues.

My hands clammy, my shirt beginning to soak with perspiration in the air-conditioned room. Blinded momentarily by the projector, I faced my audience. Their faces raptly attentive as they waited for the first words to come.

I noticed my boss as he glanced at his watch. A phone buzzed in silent mode on the table and all eyes were drawn toward it. Someone muttered an apology as he picked up the errant phone and read the message.

I had spent weeks preparing for this meeting. We were about to introduce a new computer system across the entire business and everyone in the room would be affected. Nobody wanted the new system. I stumbled through my slides, gave them all the facts and outlined the plan. Still, nobody wanted the new system.

I had failed to influence my colleagues to support the project.

So why had my long-prepared presentation failed to achieve the intended result?

When we link the required resources to the goal through personal benefit — we create motivation to change. That is, we influence the person to change.

The answer lies in the Triangle of Influence

When we are influenced to do something, we connect three things inside the brain:

  1. The goal we will achieve
  2. The resources achieving the goal costs, and
  3. The personal benefits that we get out of achieving the goal.

When we believe that we have more value in the benefit than the cost, we will be motivated to act on achieving the goal. But if we believe that the cost outweighs the benefit, we will not be motivated to act.

Everyone has influence!

We all have the power to affect another person. The very definition of influence. But do you have the necessary power to affect the people you need to influence?

When I was presenting to my colleagues in an attempt to influence them to support my project I neglected a few critical points. In particular:

  • The objective of the project was not as clear for them as it needed to be.
  • I couldn’t really explain the cost to them, nor
  • What was in it for them, personally.

Not surprising then that they weren’t motivated to action.

People are influenced when they link a clear action (goal) with the PERSONAL benefits that they will gain that are greater than the cost to them of undertaking the action in their mind.

It is critical that we realise that people are influenced when THEY make the link.

Influence to act = PERSONAL Benefits > PERSONAL costs

Surely it cannot be this simple?

Well, it can. But importantly, simple does not mean easy.

If we wish to influence another person to undertake a particular action, to be certain that we motivate them to action, we need to know:

  • What they PERCEIVE to be the personal benefits
  • What value they place on those benefits
  • What they perceive to be the costs to them and
  • The value they place on those costs.

And, bear in mind, that even if we are to know this today, by tomorrow these may have changed.

So we apply our own perception of what WE think are the benefits and costs for the other person. The greater our empathy, the more likely we are to understand the other person well enough to influence them easily.

Take a child’s perspective…

As you approach the checkout in the supermarket, little Johnny grabs a fistful of chocolate. (Goal = eat chocolate, Benefits = pleasure, sugar buzz, flavour, Cost = zero)

As a parent, you know that the cost is considerably higher, certainly in terms of cash, but also there are future long-term implications such as weight gain, a sense of entitlement that pleasure doesn’t have to be paid for.

As a parent, you want to take the chocolate back off Johnny. At which point, little Johnny increases the cost to the parent of doing so. Crying, screaming, and being generally badly behaved. Why? Because such behaviour has worked in the past.

The cost to the parent could be that feeling of shame. We’ve all felt the eyes of those behind us in the queue. We can feel their disapproval of our parenting. There’s those who think we should simply give in and get out of their way and those who think you are a terrible parent for having such an ill-disciplined child.

Who influences whom? Well, that depends on the perception of the value of each of the associated costs. Either way, children learn the secret power they possess and which buttons to press to get what they want.

As we grow older and wiser, we lose this natural ability to get our own way. It is no longer seemly to ‘lose one’s temper’ even if it still works.

The principles of influence though, remain the same.

If I ask you to do something, you’ll want to know the cost for you and what’s in it for you. Only when the benefits for you outweigh your costs will you be motivated to act.

However, I can also influence you by manipulating your perception, or I could force or coerce you to do something. When does influence cross the line?

If you would like to learn more about Presenting to Influence workshops or coaching, take a look here.




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Dr John Kenworthy

Dr John Kenworthy

Behavioural Neuroscientist and Expert Hybrid Leadership Coach so that You can have Joy@Work and Your Team has Purposeful Unity of Collaboration and Trust

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