July 2012 | 

A Gameplan for Influencing Others

Influencing Others

During her tenure as U.S. Secretary of State, Madeline Albright worked to reverse ethnic cleansing in Kosovo, promote peace in the Balkans, expand and modernize NATO, reduce nuclear dangers in Russia, and secure approval of legislation to assist reforming economies in sub-Saharan Africa. She credits persuasion skills (of herself and others) for these achievements, noting, "You not only have to understand fully what you believe … but … you have to try to figure out what the other person on the other side of the table has in mind."

Mario Moussa, co-author of The Art of Woo: Using Strategic Persuasion to Sell Your Ideas and learning director of Strategic Persuasion Workshop: The Art and Science of Selling Ideas, places a strong emphasis on the second half of Albright's equation. "Persuasion isn't about the strength of your ideas, or your argument. You might have truth on your side and have developed an iron-clad case, but facts and logical arguments don't motivate people to act. Logic just puts a structure around things we already believe. To change someone's mind, you need to replace the 'hyperrational' with the social, by making a connection."

Moussa continues, "Influence and persuasion are interactive, interpersonal processes. You must understand what motivates someone and speak to that. Madeline Albright is right when she advises to never conduct negotiations without an understanding of the other person." In the Strategic Persuasion Workshop, Moussa tells executives to behave and think like an anthropologist to develop that understanding. "You have to look and listen for clues. Survey the landscape, too. That person is part of a culture which may be very different from yours."

Within one organization, he stresses, different functions develop different cultures. "Humans are tribal. One of the benefits of silos is that they encourage specialization. But they also have a gravitational pull; once inside, you stay in one frame, making it harder to communicate with those outside. When you communicate across functions, first understand the mindset, time horizons, rewards (financial or profession), and levels of formality and rules."

Communication becomes even more complex when crossing global borders. "Research shows that over 40 percent of executives who were previously successful in their home countries have trouble adapting in unfamiliar cultural settings," says Moussa. "A common mistake is to assume that cultural borders matter most. But often it is other 'borders' that present tougher challenges — conflicting corporate agendas, divergent functional backgrounds, clashing psychological styles, and other differences lurk beneath situations at work."

In Global Strategic Leadership, he teaches executives to develop a global mindset for recognizing and reaching across borders. But whether that border is functional, cultural, psychological, or political, to make the connection — or in the language of persuasion, to "tune into the right channel" — Moussa stresses using a Six Channel Survey:

  1. authority (emphasis on using formal position or rules)
  2. rationality (emphasis on using reasoning)
  3. vision (emphasis on organizational goals, purposes, aspirations)
  4. relationship (emphasis on liking, similarity, reciprocity)
  5. interests/incentives (emphasis on using trades and compromises)
  6. politics (emphasis on managing perceptions and building consensus

To be effective, you must adapt your communication style based on the channel that will be heard. Which channel are you, the person you're trying to persuade, and your organization tuned into? How can you make small changes to be better received, recognizing that being right isn't enough?

The survey can help you to recognize and bridge differences instead of relying on the strength of your ideas. "It takes many executives years to understand the importance of seeing things from someone else's point of view," says Moussa. "But influence depends on relationship building — selling your ideas can't be done through authority alone, and success can't be achieved on your own. As former CEO of IBM Sam Palmisano said, 'Culture isn't one aspect of the game. It is the game.'"