The field of professional coaching continues to evolve and a new approach has emerged over the last few years called developmental coaching which is intended to be transformative both professionally and personally. Traditionally, executive coaching has been about helping leaders gain clarity, achieve goals, develop skills and provide support. All about improving the outer game of leadership.
Developmental coaching is a deeper approach that draws on theoretical models of adult developmental which have emerged from different fields of study, including psychology, philosophy and neuroscience. This deeper coaching process provides structure, methodologies and language that supports profound leadership and personal development. It really about developing your inner game.
This approach is focussed on uncovering core beliefs we have about ourselves and assumptions we hold about the way world works. These beliefs and assumptions have huge influence over how we perceive, think and behave at work and at home. They are mostly below our conscious awareness and are having a big impact on our leadership and our lives everyday. As we bring these beliefs into awareness we can begin to understand how they are limiting our effectiveness and preventing the changes we are striving for. Through this new awareness we are able to reframe or let go of some of these long-held beliefs. Ultimately there is an upward shift in maturity to a more advanced stage of adult development and new view of self and the world emerges. This shift in perspective is transformative and really opens up our potential and allows us to show up in a more expansive and effective way.
How do you know if this approach is for you? Some signs could be:
There are changes that you want to make and have tried creating new habits but have failed (repeatedly).
You want to have much greater impact as a leader.
You may feel like you have stagnated in your career. You feel like you want more but are stuck.
You may feel like the complexity and volume of what is demanded of you at work is too much.
Maybe you looking for more meaning in your work.
Or have a frustrated sense that you have untapped potential but something is holding you back.
Simply put developmental coaching is about working on your inner game as a way of improving your outer game. And while that sounds simple it can have a profound and lasting influence on how we show up in all aspect of our lives.
If you are intrigued please get in touch. I am very happy to have a chat as I am deeply passionate about this work.
I have always had an aversion to people who came across as very confident and self-assured. It may be because I so rarely experience that feeling myself and wondered how is it they be so certain and self-confident. On one hand there is something seductive and reassuring about that certainly but on the other I have a lurking suspicion that something is amiss.
In these uncertain and polarised times ‘being right’ seems to pandemic. So, it seems fair to ask how do we know what we know?
Neurologist Robert Burton in his book “On Being Certain” argues that certainty is not a conscious choice nor a rational thought process. Certainty or the feeling being right are sensations that arise that arise out involuntary brain activity independent of reason. Neuroscientist have also come to understand that feeling of being right or certain produces reward sensation in the brain much like an addict getting a hit. In fact, our brain’s crave certainty. It makes us feel safe.
I guess it no surprise that in time of great uncertainty such as we are in that we see increase in polarization and self-righteousness. Our brains just want certainty and to feel safe.
Harvard Psychologist Ellen Langer says about our thinking “We are frequently in error and rarely in doubt. Arthur Kahneman says of his entire Nobel prize winning research that “Most of us believe we are right most of the time about most things without noticing”.
I have been curious about this because it is topic that has come up a lot in my coaching lately. Being right is a seductive trap for leaders. Our culture promotes and rewards leaders that act as though they smartest person in the room and have all the answers.
One virtue that we can cultivate to overcome rush to be right is to develop “intellectual humility’ which simply means the ability to recognise that the things you believe might in fact be wrong.
You only need to review this list of cognitive bias that have been well researched and documented over the last couple of decades to make you pause and wonder how do I know what I know? https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_cognitive_biases
Leaders are paid for high quality thinking and decision making every day so be vigilant for the ‘certainty trap’ which will undermine your thinking and performance.
Red flags to look out for are feeling judgemental, defensive or superior.
So what can you do?
Practice metacognition or thinking about your thinking:
Stay curious and listen to learn rather than fix.
Fear is a powerful force. You only need to track newspaper headlines or listen to Trump’s hyperbole to realize how just the idea of danger grabs our attention and creates a fearful response in us. This makes sense, of course, because responding to genuine sources of danger is how our species has survived and thrived. Fear moves us out of harm’s way.
But fear of actual danger is not the fear I am talking about. The fear I am talking about is sneaky and secretive; it flits around in the shadows of our mind subtly or not so subtly driving our behaviors, decisions and performance. It disguises itself as anger, resistance, irritation, procrastination, restlessness, tiredness, sickness etc.
This kind of fear is usually connected to the core beliefs we have about ourselves. Core beliefs are formed early in life, sit below our conscious awareness and not only influence how we experience the world, but also drive our reactions and habits of behaviors.
Most core beliefs fall into some version of the following:
· Fear that we are not good enough, are unworthy or flawed
· Fear of rejection or being abandoned in some way
· Fear of failure
· Fear of success
These fears arise unnoticed then impact our thinking keeping us trapped in limiting patterns of behavior. The secret life of fear diminishes the quality of our existence.
Uncovering and shifting these beliefs does take some courage but is deeply rewarding. Clues to look for are people or places that ‘trigger’ (cause strong emotional reaction) us or patterns of behavior that we do not like or want but we keep repeating.
The first step is noticing and becoming compassionately curious about what fears are lurking in the shadows and how they show up. There are many practices such as mindfulness, meditation and journaling that can support this process. In a sense it is ‘self-study’. Self-study to uncover unconscious beliefs and assumptions is a powerful path to change. Therapy, coaching, and workshops can support and accelerate self-study to help you shift and change these beliefs. The reward is a higher quality of consciousness which cannot help but create a higher quality of reality.
“Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom.” Aristotle
“And you? When will you begin that long journey into yourself?” Rumi
Last week I attended an evening at “The School of Life” called A Night of Better Conversations. The School of Life is the brainchild of Alain de Botton, a Swiss-born, British philosopher. The ‘school’ offers educational programs and events that explore ways to make work more fulfilling, improve relationships and make life more meaningful.
The inspiration for the event was the idea that many of us are looking for deeper more meaningful conversations. The facilitator posed the notion that for many of us our conversations and interactions are often superficial. That most of the time we are presenting a busy and achieving version of ourselves to impress our fellow conversationalist. Or we keep to very superficial discussions on real estate, high schools or the weather. Over time that kind of conversation whether at work or at home causes stagnation to occur. We miss out on juicy life-affirming connections with others.
Great conversations can create bonds, build trust, promote understanding, boost careers and deepen friendships.
Last year The New York Times featured an article about 37 questions (designed by psychologists) that will make you fall in love. The premise was that if you asked each other all 37 questions there was a high probability that you would fall in love. The questions were designed to create mutual vulnerability, which in turn fosters closeness. So great conversations can even cause us to fall in love.
Back at the ‘School of Life’ our work was to practice having better conversations. We were provided with some oxygenating questions to try out on total strangers. It was fun and energizing.
I loved this event because I certainly crave conversations that explore the bigger questions of what it is to be human.
My favourite questions from that night are:
What in your life do you feel most grateful for and why?
What surprises you the most about your life right now?
What do you regret not doing because of fear?
With those first few Christmas gatherings already in the calendar, I want to be better prepared to have great conversations. Please post and share those stimulating questions that take you out of the shallow end of the conversational pool and get you well into the deep end. Be brave and try out a few at your next work lunch or school picnic. Like oxygen, we all need good conversations.
“Ah, good conversation - there's nothing like it, is there? The air of ideas is the only air worth breathing.”
― Edith Wharton, The Age of Innocence
An odd headline I know but yes disruption has come to the camping industry if we can call it an industry. We have discovered air B&B for camping and have found a private camping paradise in the beautiful Hunter Valley. We have been there a couple times and met the farmers that own the property. The first time we were there we had a lovely fireside chat about a life lived as farmers. We talked about the land, cattle, horses and chickens. At the time I do remember Lindsay mentioning to me that he learned to read and write at 55 years old. That was rather amazing I thought.
A few weeks ago we camped there again and our farmer friends were arriving back from a conference in Melbourne as we were packing up camp. As it turns out they were in Melbourne to run a leadership conference. As it turns out they run conferences all over the world! I have to admit this was not the conversation I expected to have. We had a long chat and a bit of a laugh that were in the same business. Lindsay said what inspired him to learn to read and write so late in life was the messages he heard when he attended Robert Kiyosaki seminar over 15 years ago.
Within 7 years of attending that seminar he had not only learned to read and write but was on-stage interviewing Mr. Kiyosaki at a large leadership conference. Since then Lindsay and his wife Pam have run leadership programs around the world and have spoken to audiences as large as 80,000 people in the US last year.
I was very inspired by Lindsay’s story and struck by just how much ‘inspiration’ and a strong sense of purpose is a key driver to success in your career. And how it is never too late.
Last weekend I went to a 65th birthday party with a crowd that consisted mainly of the 60-70 age group. Most of the people I spoke to were still passionately involved in careers as journalist, lawyers, and business owners. They were a pretty vibrant lively bunch. Very similar to Lindsay who is now 70, clear-eyed, purposeful and vibrant.
The lesson for me was clear. Being engaged in a career that inspires you and provides a mental challenge is as important to good health and vitality as exercise and a good diet. And it is never too late to start.
Plenty of research backs this up. One new study from Oregon State University indicates that working past age 65 could lead to longer life, while retiring early may be a risk factor for dying earlier, The researchers found that healthy adults who retired one year past age 65 had an 11 % lower risk of death from all causes, even when taking into account demographic, lifestyle and health issues. Adults who described themselves as unhealthy were also likely to live longer if they kept working, the findings showed, which indicates that factors beyond health may affect post-retirement mortality.
So where are you? Is your career one that inspires you and gives you purpose? Does it have longevity? Do you have a career plan for your life span?
P.S. At the party one 69-year-old woman who runs a private tour business asked me how I promoted my business? I said I used Linkedin as a primary tool. She looked concerned. She said, “people are leaving Linkedin in droves”. Damn it is hard to keep up with social media trends these days!
I am currently preparing for a workshop that I am presenting at the Women in Tech 2016 conference. http://www.questevents.com.au/women-tech-2016
The workshop is called "The Key to Lateral Leadership" - how to have an impact and build your career through influence. Lateral leadership is a phrase coined by Harvard Law Professor Roger Fisher which he describes as achieving goals through others without authority which is really all about persuasion and influence.
So I thought it might be useful to look at the science behind persuasion and influence for some new ideas. It is something some of us are better at naturally or is it something that can be cultivated?
The body of academic research called Social Neuroscience has enabled us to have a much better understanding of how our social connectedness has a deep impact on how our brains functions and vice a versa. We have two key organizing principles of the brain: to avoid danger and to approach reward.
Another important discovery is that our social relatedness is key driver of our behavior. We are highly sensitive and attuned to our connection with others. If we experience any form of rejection or loss of status we experience pain in the same regions of the brain as we would physical pain. Studies have shown that by taking a painkiller you can relieve the pain of social rejection in the same way as a headache.
So what does this have to do with influence?
From my research I think it is fair to say it means we have more persuasive ability that we realize. Each human is deeply driven by the need to belong and accepted. To not comply with what others are saying is very uncomfortable. To be ostracized or left out socially is perceived by our reptilian brain as a life threatening (just ask a local teenager). Very dangerous indeed!
The hierarchical nature of most organizations means that our social brain gets very activated at work. Our status, fairness and sense of connectedness is constantly being monitored by our social brain. Because many companies emphasize the structure and conformity of these hierarchies, employees tend to assume that their influence is dependent upon their roles or titles — that if they lack seniority or power, they can’t really ask for anything.
But the thing is that senior leaders also have those same organizing principles in their own brains; The same need for connection, cooperation and being part of the group. Senior leaders want to be respected, liked and they have a strong aversion to having to say no or disappointing others. Their own social brains are strongly driven to comply with the needs of others. It is often very much harder for someone to say no than to say yes.
Even if they say no they will feel very bad about it. People are very motivated to comply with requests because to say no usually triggers activity in the amygdala – a fear response. As well to say yes to a request will trigger a reward response kicking off production of feel good hormones such as dopamine.
Also our brains really like to conserve energy. A simple direct request can be processed quickly by the brain while convoluted (indirect) request are likely to ignored or avoided as they take up more processing power.
So to become more influential the first step is just to ask for what we want. If we put ourselves into the shoes of the person we are trying to influence and understand that their own unconsciousness social needs and drivers are very compelling it will be easier.
In Josh Davis’s (Lead Professor for the NeuroLeadership Institute) lecture on social influence, he talks about two personal traits that can impact on our persuasiveness. The first is likability, which includes attractiveness and our capacity to show empathy, the second trait is credibility encompassing expertise and sincerity. The research seems to indicate that how much impact these traits will have is in part dependent on how important the topic is to the person being persuaded.
Another great resource on the topic is The Six Principles of Influence that were developed by Robert Cialdini. and published in his book, "Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion." He is widely considered the foremost authority on the topic of influence and persuasion.
The principles Cialdini presents are: reciprocity, commitment, social proof, liking, authority, and scarcity. When you look at each of these principles they can be related back to the needs of our social brain - move way from danger and move toward reward.
My few simple tips to be more persuasive:
1) Ask for what you want and be direct. (so many people just do not ask in the first place ).
2) Think about the person you are asking and put yourself in their shoes (build empathy) and know they are strongly driven to cooperate. So they are already on your side.
3) Ask with conviction (sincerity and certainty). This is something most successful salespeople already know.
4) Do not be afraid to ask again. If someone has gone against the grain of their social brain and said ‘No” –most likely they will feel very bad and will want to make amends (this is something most kids seem to know instinctively –It is called pester power).
The idea of trying to persuade or influence others can make us uncomfortable—Fortunately our universal human need for social connectedness and belonging means it is much easier than we think.
70% of employees say they are disengaged or actively disengaged. Numerous consultancy firms collect and publish data on employee engagement. There seems to be a real consistency in this number from year to year and from country to country. This means that 70% of workers are either disengaged (i.e. they are doing the bare minimum to keep there jobs) or actively disengaged (possibly sabotaging their work place). What an incredible waste of potential and productivity for business and for individuals.
At one point in my career I was one of the seventy precent and it was terrible! I know it can be better! This is why I started my business.
This intricate, difficult and persistent problem has spawned a billion dollar industry over many decades with thousands of books, consulting firms, training organizations and coaches all trying to improve employee engagement. Given that statistics remain so very consistent, you have to wonder is it just futile? What strikes me about this is that because it is so pervasive and consistent over time it seems to indicate that it is something about our nature as humans.
Something about the human experience at work has to be at play here.
I am currently completing studies in Neuroscience of Leadership and I have been exposed to research that is helping us better understand how our brains operate in the context of leadership, teams and organizations. A big take-away is that our brain is primarily a ‘social’ organ which has a powerful influence on how we interpret, experience and respond to everything.
Dr. David Rock, who has a PHD in Neuroscience of Leadership and has written several books on the topic, has developed a useful model to help us better understand and manage our ‘social’ brain at work. His work provides great insights into what might be at the heart of employment engagement or disengagement.
An important thing to understand about your brain is that it has two key organizing principles: to avoid danger and approach reward. The need to avoid danger is by far the stronger influence and deeply entrenched, as it is how our ancestors stayed alive living in the jungle; and to this day whether we are aware of it or not it is still a major force in the corporate jungle.
While the basic premise of employment is to get paid (reward) for a performing a job, this contract of work for monetary reward is falling short. Giving reward seems obvious and easy…. salary, perks, praise and free pizza but it just not enough as we can see by the statistics.
Taking care of this more profound need to avoid danger and feel safe is a far subtler task that requires a skillful and consistent moment-to-moment approach. But in this, I think, is part of the solution for the ‘seventy per cent”.
In order to help better understand the brain at work Dr Rock has developed a wonderful model that outline the five social needs of our brain: The SCARF Model. These social needs activate the same circuitry in the brain in the same way that physical threats and rewards are activated. It can have powerful impact on whether people feel safe and are able to function at their best (access your executive function) or in danger and feel need to withdraw or shut-down (fight or flight response).
This is my summary of the Scarf model because I think it is useful resource for leaders and needs to be shared as widely as possible.
Status is all about how we see ourselves in comparison to others in various social situations. It underpins our needs for respect and recognition (this gives us a clue to the addictive tendency that some people experience counting the LIKES on their Facebook page). When people do things that elevate our status we experience a rush of positive feelings that will result in better thinking and enhanced engagement. On the contrary when people do things that lower our status we will feel threatened and likely withdraw or become defensive. Just reflect on your last performance review & spare a kind thought for Tony Abbott our now ex-prime minister.
Certainty Our brain really likes to know what will happen next. When the outcomes happen as expected then our brain will feel rewarded rather than threatened. This produces positive feelings that again enhance our ability to perform well. I am working with a team in one organization who is currently going through a restructure. It has been an on-going process for a few months now and I know the lack of certainty is having a detrimental impact on productivity and engagement as everyone nervously awaits the announcement.
Autonomy Our brains yearn for choice and control over our environment and our work. I have one word…Micro-manage. Who has not had the experience of being micro-managed at work? How engaged did you feel? When you are given greater control over what, when and how you do your work you will feel more engagement and enjoyment.
Relatedness This need for relatedness is all about our need to feel part of the group. Our brain is constantly monitoring people as friend or foe (enter alcohol and suddenly everyone is our friend). Can we relate to this person or not? Are they like me or not? This notion of being in the group is a very powerful one. When we feel left out or rejected we experience emotional pain in the same way as physical pain. Being new to the team or not being invited along to a social event can cause the threat response to be triggered.
Fairness Are things equal and being done by the rules by all, as they have been set out? This notion of things being unfair can be a great driver for many people. Just think of the many organisations and individuals around the world fighting on behalf of thousands of social justice issues. It shows up at work when commitments are met and communication is open. I recently attended a lunch where Maile Carnegie, MD of Google ANZ, spoke about the power of transparency at Google. A level of transparency so complete that it included employee access to board meeting minutes and her own performance review as MD. Transparency is a powerful message of fairness!
The Scarf Model is a great resource for understanding the social needs of the brain. As one of client said, “How can I remember all this when I am in the middle of a meeting or conversation with a colleague”? Good point. I think at least understanding that we are all driven by the needs of our social brain to avoid danger and move toward reward is a good start. Avoiding danger will always be the stronger influence. So a ‘safety comes first’ approach is a good rule of thumb. Use your own social brain as the touchstone. Ask yourself would ‘this’ make me feel safe?
The ‘safety’ factor is not the entire solution for the prickly 'disengagement ‘ issue but it is part of it. When I think back to my own experience: Expectations were set but not met, changes happened frequently without communication and there seemed to be different sets of rules at play. The impact on me was to feel uncertain, excluded and unsafe. At the time it felt like the worst experience but it did inspire me to start my business. So a good outcome in the end!!!
is the English way"… says Pink Floyd in the iconic song “Time”.
Well maybe not if former British MP Chris Ruane’s vision for Britain becomes a reality.
As I mentioned in a previous post, I attended the Mindful Leadership Forum last week here in Sydney. One of the speakers I found particularly inspiring was Chris Ruane. (Actually it was more of an interview format with Jono Fisher, Founder of the Wake-up Project). Chris was a MP in the British parliament for about 18 years.
Chris began his foray into mindfulness while helping his daughter with a school project on Buddhism. He started practicing some of the techniques he read about and then began sharing the benefits with his fellow MP’s. From small things big things grow.
Today over 100 MP’s are trained and are practicing mindfulness and it is being rolled out to the 2000 staff in parliament. From there too the Mindfulness All-Party Parliamentary Group began. The research and inquiry undertaken by this group has led to the Mindful Nation UK report. The interim reports states in the first 2 lines of executive summary:
“The Mindfulness All-Party Parliamentary Group has carried out an eight-month inquiry into the potential for mindfulness training in key areas of public life - health, education, workplaces and the criminal justice system. We find that mindfulness is a transformative practice, leading to a deeper understanding of how to respond to situations wisely.” It goes on to outline some high level recommendations for the implementation in those sectors.
The two specifics that Chris mentioned in the interview was the training of teachers in mindfulness (there is a lot of burn out and drop out in the teaching profession). Mindfulness would not only better equip the teachers for their demanding roles as educators but they are in a perfect position to teach mindfulness to the next generation. What a point of impact on a society!!!
The other one he mentioned was training doctors not only as a means to inoculate doctors from stressful workloads but also as a means to encourage mindfulness as a ‘prescription” for anxiety and depression. The rate of depression and anxiety related health issues have been growing at frightening rates in the UK (as I am sure is reflected here in Australia). The research has been conclusive that mindfulness can be very effective in the treatment for anxiety and depression. No drugs needed in many instances (sorry big Pharma).
Already in place is the ability for doctors to recommend mindfulness based stress reduction programs in place of medication and the cost of the course will be covered by the NHS. But there has been a low uptake of this option to date.
The full report will be tabled in the UK parliament next month on Oct 20.
This week Chris is in Canberra meeting with various politicians for discussion on mindfulness and public policy.
I was practically levitating from my seat with a sense of hope and possibility. And I do hope Chris finds some political ears that will listen and too see the possibility
My personal practice of mindfulness has led me to experience greater empathy and compassion for my fellow humans. And without a doubt Canberra sure could use more of that!!!
If you want a little hope in your day..check out this short little video from Chris talking about this journey…
I attended the Mindful Leadership Conference last week presented by the wonderful people from the Wake –Up project in Sydney. The event was jammed packed with inspiring and thought-provoking speakers. One of the speakers Golbie Kamarei, shared her story of how what started as a conversation around the water cooler about her personal experiences with mindfulness and yoga led to a mindfulness program that reached 1500 employees across 17 countries. The organization she works for is BlackRock one of the worlds largest asset management firms and maybe one of the last places you would expect people to embrace mindfulness.
Mostly what I loved about her talk was how the simple act of her generously contributing her time and sharing her knowledge turned into a far reaching program that has contributed to improving the well-being and performance of so many of her colleagues.
The other thing I loved was a challenge she proposed through a simple question:
What is one thing you can do to be more transparent, more authentic or more human at work today?
-Share a fear or worry you have?
-Be more transparent about the challenges you are facing at home or work?
-Admit a mistake you made or that you do not know the answer?
How human and authentic of you!!! and thank you...
A theme that came throughout the 2 days was this notion of how many workplaces are environments that are fear-based and overly competitive. That people are viewed only as their roles not as human beings and the need to wear the mask of that role (ever infallible, strong and perfect) is exhausting.
Another speaker, Samantha Payne, from Westpac shared a similar story of how she took responsibility to create her own culture around her; one that was supportive, transparent and balanced. Instead of just complaining about the toxic work environment she took action and began to share and integrate some of her personal mindfulness practices with her team. In a small way she has begun to create a kinder and happier workplace for her own team. I suspect this is just the beginning of the story for Samantha and Westpac.
Samantha also issued a challenge that because culture is personal and every person contributes to it why not disrupt it? Just like the disruption we have seen in the longstanding taxi and hotel industries to make them better; why not disrupt your workplace or even your life? How can you disrupt things to make it better? You might even be amazed at the ripple effect it could have.
I have been working with a client that works for a large financial institution over the last couple of months. One of his goals for our coaching is to become more effective at influencing key stakeholders across a couple of business units. Two of these stakeholders are often very slow in committing to proposals and do not respond to deadlines. This causes stress and increased workload throughout other teams, as suddenly high volumes of work need to be executed in very short timeframes.
He asked me for input on how he could become more influential in getting timely responses and better commitment up front.
So I thought it might be useful to look at the science behind persuasion and influence. It is something some of us are better at naturally or can it be cultivated?
The body of research called social neuroscience has enabled us to have a much better understanding of how our social connectedness has a deep impact on how our brains functions and vice versa. We have two important organising principles of the brain: to avoid danger and to approach reward.
Another important discovery is that our social relatedness is key driver of our behavior. We are highly sensitive and attuned to our connection with others. If we experience any form of rejection or loss of status we experience pain in the same regions of the brain as we would physical pain. Studies have even shown that by taking a painkiller you can relieve the pain of social rejection in the same way as a headache.
So what does this have to do with influence?
From my research I think it is fair to say it means we have more persuasive ability than we realise. Each human is deeply driven by the need to belong and be accepted. To not comply with what others are saying is very uncomfortable. To be ostracized or left out socially is perceived by our reptilian brain as life threatening (just ask any teenager). Very dangerous indeed!
The hierarchal nature of most organisations means that our social brain gets highly activated at work. Our status, fairness and sense of connectedness is constantly being monitored by our social brain. Because many companies emphasise the structure and conformity of these hierarchies, employees tend to assume that their influence is dependent on their roles or titles — and that if they lack seniority or power, they can’t ask for anything.
But the thing is that senior leaders have those same organising principles in their own brains – the same need for connection, cooperation and being part of the group. Senior leaders want to be respected and liked, and they have a strong aversion to having to say no or disappointing others. Their social brains are strongly driven to comply with the needs of others. It is often very much harder for someone to say no than to say yes.
Even if they do say no they will feel bad about it. People are very motivated to comply with requests because to say no usually triggers activity in the amygdala – a fear response. Equally, to say yes to a request will trigger a reward response kicking off production of feel-good hormones such as dopamine.
And our brains really like to conserve energy. A simple, direct request can be processed quickly by the brain, while convoluted (indirect) requests are likely to be ignored or avoided as they take up more processing power.
So the first step to become more influential is to just ask for what we want. If we put ourselves into the shoes of the person we are trying to influence and understand that their own unconscious social needs and drivers are very compelling, it will be easier.
In his lecture on social influence Josh Davis, Lead Professor for the NeuroLeadership Institute, talks about two personal traits that can impact on our persuasiveness. The first is likability, which includes attractiveness and our capacity to show empathy, the second trait is credibility, encompassing expertise and sincerity. The research seems to indicate that how much impact these traits will have is in part dependant on how important the topic is to the person being persuaded.
Another great resource on this topic is The Six Principles of Influence, developed by Robert Cialdini and published in his book Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion. He is widely considered to be the foremost authority on the topic of influence and persuasion.
The principles Cialdini presents are: reciprocity, commitment, social proof, liking, authority, and scarcity. When you look at each of these principles they can be related back to the needs of our social brain – move way from danger and move toward reward.
My few simple tips to be more persuasive are:
The idea of trying to persuade others can make us uncomfortable. Fortunately, our universal human need for social connectedness and belonging means it is much easier than we think.