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Do This One Thing Differently To Influence Others

November 20, 2019

Have you ever tried speed dating?

I haven't. But I have tried speed networking.

At 20 years old, I attended a seminar on Network Science (the study of how networks come together and where their power lies). At the beginning of the seminar, there was an icebreaker exercise where all 50 people in the room did speed networking.

The prompt was: "You're starting a new company with five people from this room. You'll interview everyone here for one minute. If you like them, write their name down. You'll submit your top five choices at the end."

I didn't waste any time. I immediately started talking to people about why I would be a great business partner.

I did my best to sell myself. I said things like:

  • I'm a hard worker
  • I'm a people person
  • I love new ideas
  • I learn quickly

Yeah, all the cliché things that people say in job interviews. I cringe even thinking about it now.

I, too, evaluated very closely the people sitting across from me to see who I'd want to go into business with.

The seminar staff collected everyone's top 5 lists and then compiled the results into one list of who was most popular in the room.

Here's the sad ending: I was on the bottom of the list. Last place. Out of 50 people, I was the least popular.

In the NFL draft, they have a name for the last person picked: Mr. Insignificant.

I was Mr. Insignificant.

What a blow to my ego. I felt ashamed. I wondered what was so wrong with me that people didn't choose me.

How would I have any business success if no one wanted me to work for their company?

I was so affected by this that I decided to do a deep dive into learning how to be more influential. I needed to find out why I was so invisible.

What I learned...

In my searching, I learned that there is one huge thing you can do to influence someone. I would call it the secret of one-on-one influence:

Nobody is listening to you until you first trigger their emotion of being understood.

However, most ideas about influencing people come off as overused sales techniques.

  • What opening statement you should use.
  • Making use of well-supported evidence to bolster your points.
  • How to make your point in closing.
  • How to handle objections.

All that this amounts to is a better presentation of your ideas.

What I'm going to explain here is different. This is not about how to better convince people of your point of view. Or how you can make a better sales argument. This is not about YOU at all.

This is about triggering the feeling that opens someone up to be influenced.

Interesting vs. Interested

Close your eyes, and think back to your childhood. Think of all the adults, for better or worse, who you had in your life at that time. Parents, grandparents, teachers, sport coaches, uncles, aunts, neighbors, etc.

Now, of all these people, who did you love being around? What adult did you love when you were a kid? (If you can't think of someone on the spot, expand your search to being a teenager.)

Here is the question now: Why did you love them? Was it because you found them to be a very interesting person? Or was it because they were interested in YOU?

The person who had a huge impact on your life did it not by dazzling you with information or self-importance, but by sincerely caring for you--likely taking the time to understand and listen to you.

In a word, being interested is the secret to influence.

Now, being interesting is a challenge. It can be likened to being entertaining.

Being interested, on the other hand, doesn't require much effort from you. Mostly listening and concise questions.

This should be obvious. No surprise, right? But we often miss it.

When we really want to convince someone of something--especially when we're emotionally invested in the outcome--we usually focus on whether we are being heard. We're typically not trying to understand the other person's point of view.

This usually only ends in frustration because neither party feels understood.

However, imagine what it would feel like if the person you were speaking to could clearly articulate back to you what you said.

This is the key. The process of influencing someone doesn't begin until the other party feels heard.

"That's Right" vs. "You're Right"

The great negotiation book Never Split the Difference brilliantly explains this with a fantastic distinction. When someone is going on and on about why we should believe something, we often pacify them by saying, "You're right."

This is just a way to get them to leave you alone.

However, if someone is telling you what you believe and they are getting it right, you'll be nodding your head and saying...

"That's right."

In my experience, this is quite literally what people say when you're doing this right.

How to use this

It's simple. Before trying to influence someone, trigger a "that's right."

Before explaining your point of view, clearly articulate theirs.

In order to do this, you have to make sure you're listening!

Then do the following:

Summarize what they've said or their point of view

If you do this right, you'll likely get a "that's right" out of them.

If you summarize and they feel you don't understand them, they'll correct you. This is an opportunity to learn what they really think. Summarize again, and now you'll trigger the "that's right."

Once they feel like you understand them, they will finally be open to your point of view. Now, you can make your point.

Talking to people this way regularly will change your life

When was the last time someone fully understood you? I mean totally got you—who you are, your beliefs, your feelings?

I bet it's been awhile.

Feeling deeply understood is rare.

And what's rare is valuable.

If you make it a habit to regularly trigger "that's rights" from the people around you, they'll love you for it.

You'll experience deeper relationships, greater respect from others, and a seemingly magical ability to persuade.

Two Years Later

Two years after my initial speed-networking seminar experience, I had the opportunity to take the course again.

This time I was prepared. I wasn't going to do any talking about me. Instead, I would only listen to people, and repeat back what they said. If I could, I'd try to find something to compliment them on as well.

When the results were revealed, I was surprised to find out I was ranked #1 most popular in the room.

“Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” ― Stephen R. Covey

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