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The Optimist’s Guide to Failure and Human Influence

The Optimist’s Guide to Failure and Human Influence

Written by Austin Dean

Like any new or unorthodox concept, these Exchange articles spark a natural (and healthy) amount of skepticism, which is why I chose to dive into human influence as it relates to the last session attended by a team of Holdsworth Campus Leaders, offered by Christina Harbridge. Christina is a behaviorist, CEO, and author of a book entitled Swayed. In working with her company called Allegory, Christina trains and coaches individuals, teams, and large groups to understand and leverage their own personal operating system when dealing with others who may or may not be rational. 

There are many ways to make an impact and influence others, and Christina believes that human influence can be more easily brought about by posing two questions:

  • What makes a person listen? Do more of that.
  • What makes a person not listen? Do less of that.

We can all agree that influencing our stakeholders, i.e. coworkers, students, parents, community members, is more complex than this because human beings are “irrational and emotional,” as Christina puts it. If we want to change something about the way someone behaves or works, we cannot come in with guns blazing and expect them to hop on board, no questions asked. In fact, we should move into these spaces ready for conflict because, odds are, it will make us better. If everyone is nodding in agreement after hearing you speak, without raising a single question, your audience either wasn’t listening or has decided you have left them with no choice but to do what you say. They are now compliant and not committed. To provide some guideposts for you, the following questions and thoughts can help make the next time you find yourself in front of a group of people presenting something new or challenging a bit more comfortable.

  • How open is their physiology? (body language)
  • Be aware that there is a massive difference between committed and compliant
  • Most humans look for themselves in what you are saying (“What does this have to do with me/Do I see myself in the story you are telling?”)
  • How people feel about themselves, not you, influences their commitment.
  • Are you making them feel safe and confident enough to commit to what you are asking of them?
  • Commitment is a feeling.

To pick up where the list ends, with the idea that commitment is a feeling, think about a time you felt a strong reaction to a speaker or performing artist. If a performance made you feel something, you clapped, cried, or leapt to your feet. Speaking to a group of peers/educators in an impassioned and effective way can inspire the same reaction. We have all seen and heard a speaker who at some point brought us to tears or made us stand up and clap in recognition or admiration of his or her message. This isn’t because of what they said, more than likely. This happened because they showed you yourself in their story, made you feel safe enough to receive the message, and in turn made commitment something that you felt.

Think about the people you work to influence daily. Tap into how they commit and do more of that. According to Christina’s research, people mostly fall into one of four groups- Those who commit one of four ways: We – Community, Goals – Outcome, Processes – Strategies, or Ideas – Innovation. We all know friends and colleagues who fall into these categories and some are more obvious than others. We know how to speak to these kinds of people and can craft our words differently for each. Why not structure your delivery to cater to them all in an intentional way? This takes practice, but it can be done. The next time you are charged with presenting a new piece of information to a Staff Meeting, PLC, or Department Meeting, dive in expecting to fail. A lot. Forge ahead anyway with the knowledge that human influence is messy because we make it difficult when driven by our emotions – and that is ok. Welcome questions, embrace feedback, and allow yourself to be “a steward and a learner” of the experience with grace enough to know that changing a habit takes time.

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The Optimist’s Guide to Failure and Human Influence

by Austin Dean
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