Sunday, January 10, 2010

Sorry Spock, logic isn't always the best motivator

A big part of my job is to influence people to perform tasks and behave in a particular way that they're not used to; and I often have no direct control over those who I must motivate. Being a bit of an academic, I thought about and subsequently researched the best way to influence the herd of cats to go in the direction I'd like them to.

As a classically trained software engineer, my first thought was that through brute force logic I could convince even the most stubborn naysayer of anything, as long as the conclusion and reasoning is logical. With a little research, you too can find interesting articles on formal logic and reasoning.  But if Dr. Phil asked “how’s that working out for you?” my answer, with a hint of frustration, would have to be “not always very well”. Surprise! People don’t always respond to logic – if so there’d be no smokers, heavy drinkers, or suicide bombers.

Influencing people involves not only logic (what you’re trying to convince people of), but invoking their emotions (how you’re convincing them) and a social aspect of convincing the right people.

So how do you get the emotion monster involved? After reading many, many texts on the subject, the best categorization of emotional influence techniques is the six weapons of influence. I’ve used one or more of these weapons in combination with quite a bit of formal logic with success many times, but not always. Dispite the best emotional influence and carefully applied logic, some people just won’t move in the right direction.

Social Pressure
This is where the leader crowd comes in to play - some people need to be lead, either explicitly or implicitly. So you have to convince the formal and informal leaders (the leader crowd) to support your ideas before that herd of cats begins heading in the right direction. To influence the leader crowd, the first step is to identify the right people – something that is situational and beyond what I can blog about today.  Do make sure to identify the informal leaders though - they're the people who, when they speak in the meeting, never have to raise their voices because everyone seems to listen. The second step is to use logic, emotion, and social pressure to convince the leader crowd. You’ll find that the lead crowd has its own, smaller leader crowd which in turn has a smaller leader crow and so forth. The deeper you get into the leader crowd, the less prominent the social pressure side of influence becomes. Eventually you’ll get to the leader crowd where you begin to influence without much of the social aspect whatsoever (think Malcom Gladwell’s tipping point). These are the independent leaders, influence them and the rest of the cats herd will be easier to manipulate.

I hope this helps you to look at influence as a bit more than just logic and has inspired you to do a little research on your own.