Last month, Stern Strategy Group employees were fortunate to participate in an in-house workshop led by Zoe Chance, Yale School of Management professor and client of Stern Speaking & Advisory, who specializes in persuasion and decision-making. The team had many wonderful takeaways they could immediately use to increase their effectiveness and influence in their professional and personal lives.
After the team shared their definitions of influence, Zoe addressed how it can sometimes be seen as pressure or manipulation. As a result, perhaps we are not asking for what we want often enough or are not asking the right questions so we can be responsive and influential. She explained that our responses to influence might be tied to our experiences with rejection. Zoe said, the brain interprets rejection like it does physical pain – we avoid asking for what we want to avoid the possible pain of rejection.
However, a Bohn’s 2021 survey showed that people are 2 to 3 times more likely to say “yes” than we expect. There are also gender and class differences – women and minorities are less likely to ask for what they want in the workplace and in their personal lives. According to Zoe, organizations committed to creating more equitable work environments for women and minorities should consider, “how can I be asking more, and helping others have to ask less?” Employers should seek to create an environment where the needs of the silent employees are seen; and be proactive about meeting those needs in policies and approaches.
Focus on ease
One theme of our workshop, included in Zoe’s book “Influence is Your Superpower,” led to a lot of head nodding and immediate connection. Zoe explained that “people take the path of least resistance.” She referred to a marketing metric – the Customer Effort Score – that answers the question, “How easy was it?” When we make it very easy for our customers, clients and employees to work with us, they are more inclined to view their interactions with us positively and are likely to seek us out repeatedly. The positive company image, through word of mouth, that results from repeated successful easy interactions can also shift non-customers to becoming customers, and non-employees to becoming employees.
Automation is the best way to make customer and employee asking – and companies granting the ask – easy. Some of the employee asks that can be automated are PTO requests, time off for the caring of loved ones, flexible schedule requests to accommodate appointments, etc. By setting up the approval process to automatically approve reasonable requests, we can increase the positive interactions our employees have with us. More “easy” experiences will lead to greater employee satisfaction and a positive company brand with existing employees and prospective ones.
Say no (sometimes)
What goes along with asking and listening to requests? Knowing when to say “no” to a request. Zoe says that we can guard against becoming overcommitted by learning to say “no,” more easily. This is a challenge she poses to her MBA students on the first day of class when she asks them to say “no” to all requests in a 24 hour period. The goal is to teach them to become comfortable with saying “no” when it is necessary. Becoming comfortable with saying “no” is essential boundary setting to help “manage your opportunity costs.” Influence includes knowing when to say “no,” so you can better manage the asks that are important to say “yes” to.
Be an active listener
We agreed that all of this sounds great and were ready to put it into practice, but Zoe reminded us that careful listening to the requests made of us are important. We all want to be heard! Each of us, whether employer, employee, sales agent or customer, needs to be an active listener who asks follow-up questions about what we are hearing. This is crucial to correctly responding to the ask. One way we can improve how we listen is to reflect on the deep values being expressed when someone is asking us for something. By first acknowledging the importance of these deeper values our follow up questions can be correctly framed. This is also a superb technique to find shared values that can deepen the connection we have with others. Deepening connections with our co-workers and clients is essential for effective relationship-building.
So, ask more and help others have to ask less. Make asking and interacting with you easy. Know when to say “no” to help manage the costs of opportunities that present themselves. And listen intently so you can connect with people’s deep and important values. These are the keys to building an inclusive and equitable workplace and a successful organization.
Thank you, Zoe, for a valuable workshop on influence and practical ways we can build meaningful relationships with our co-workers, customers and communities.