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360 Degrees of Influence
GET EVERYONE TO FOLLOW YOUR LEAD ON YOUR WAY TO THE TOP
By HARRISON MONARTH
The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.Copyright © 2012Harrison Monarth
All rights reserved.
Swayed, Nudged, and Driven: Influence Is Constant
A New Zealand bank helpfully nudges customers to save money on impulse by just pressing a button on their iPhone. Apparently there is an app for that.
School cafeterias across the United States are experimenting with the presentation of healthier food choices—making fruit and vegetables more appealing than the more popular fried food by improving their lighting, positioning, and names (carrots called "X-ray veggies," anyone?)
New York taxicabs have a touchscreen on the back of the front seat suggesting how much passengers should tip the driver upon arriving at a destination. Big, colorful buttons give the option of paying $2, $3, or $4 if the fare is less than $15. If your fare is more than $15, the buttons display percentages from 20 to 25 to 30 percent. Clearly counting on people's laziness or inability to calculate and self-select a fair tip, cabbies are happy to report that gratuities have shot way up, again due in part to these highly suggestive buttons that are tilted toward generosity.
We face tens of thousands of minor and major interactions every day that guide or steer us in one direction or another. While all this influencing and nudging is perhaps becoming more obvious as we get older, it's been a factor from the moment we released our first gut-wrenching screams upon entering this life.
We Are Born to Influence
These days, it's impossible to walk down the street without experiencing the power of influence. Even if the street is completely empty, beckonings, warnings, sales pitches, and opinions fill every conceivable angle of our vision. This exposure to influence begins with our earliest sense of self, at the moment we acknowledge we are not alone and experience desire in some form. For most of us, this begins at birth.
With that first infantile desire emerges a natural instinct as to how to obtain what we want. We cry, we wail, and we adopt this technique long before we learn that we can also get what we want by smiling and laughing. Infants are not able to rationalize, prioritize, or otherwise communicate outside of their own desires, yet they get what they want by opening their cute little mouths and letting it rip.
Just as instinctual is the parental need to notice and respond from a context of providing care and/or learning. The need to nurture is as hardwired as the baby's wailing and brings the earliest hint of nature's intention for us to exert and perceive a full circle of lifelong influence. According to a 1968 study on this interaction, this parent-child exchange is precisely the stuff of attachment, even love. Children and parents begin their journey together through a dance of influence and response, played out on a stage of interaction. From the first frame, verbal and nonverbal clues fill the family room and quickly define a dynamic that will set the tone for an entire childhood.
This first taste of the power of influence begins a process of developing and understanding our inherent powers in that regard. While social and domestic variables conspire to take this ability to different places and levels, the universal fact is that it is there within us, always available as a power to be reckoned with. Whether that power emerges as harnessing influence to get what we want or succumbing to it and becoming helpless against the desires of others remains an issue not so much of fate as of comprehension.
In other words, some get it and some don't.
A Never-Ending Battle for Rewards and Resources
As natural as it is for us to exert and respond to influence, it is a testament to the power of influence that it takes on so many forms and levels among adults. The constant battle for rewards and the pressures of competition for resources are woven into the fabric of any organization that's populated with goal-oriented professionals. They're a virtual petri dish of human psychology that elevates influence to nothing short of the currency of success.
In trying to cash in this currency, people sometimes overstep ethical and legal boundaries. A recent explosive article in Rolling Stone magazine detailed how the U.S. Army may have misused some of its "psychological operations" specialists (or PSYOPs, as they're commonly known) to influence U.S. senators who stopped by for visits. These specialists usually train their sights on hostile foreign organizations and individuals to manipulate various beliefs, value systems, and emotions for strategic gains in conflict situations and territories. In this case, however, the magazine's writer reported that PSYOPs targeted U.S. lawmakers making an appearance in the field, in a calculated effort to sway them toward sanctioning additional troops and other resources. Scandal ensued.
Competition for resources is intrinsic to the evolution of any surviving species, and the ability to adapt it to the prevailing environment has, for the majority of life on earth, defined who lives and who dies. In the human realm, competition is the fuel of pretty much all that is political, economic, and relational. We compete for votes; we vie for jobs and money; we battle for market share; we score the best talent; we strive for prestige, badges of honor, and achievement; and on a global level, we wage war for power, advantage, and the promulgation of our belief systems. The urge to influence is as old as recorded history, and thus it comprises the very essence of human dynamics and evolution.
Winning the Battle with Influence
Whether by carrot or stick or any of the more nuanced forms of influence along the spectrum, everything we desire, negotiate, measure, and reward is the product of our ability to exert influence successfully. As our species has evolved, our brains have literally grown larger, actually tripling in size over the past two million years, according to a study by David Geary, professor of psychological studies at the University of Missouri College of Arts and Science. Natural selection drove this evolution as the complexity of needs became more, well, complex over the centuries. This phenomenon among humans is precisely due to the natural instinct to compete for rewards, because humans do it in a more socially complex and environmentally varied manner than other species, whose brains are largely the same size as they were when giant reptiles roamed the planet. The fastest lion eats; the slowest gazelle gets eaten. But with us, economic and social survival is a much more complex and delicate proposition.
With all our available intellectual square footage, two thousand millennia of evolution, and more rewards than ever up for grabs, our heightened interest in mastering the art of influence is more than understandable. Those who have mastered it are the ones in the corner offices, while the rest of us have to some degree clung to those first pangs of need expressed through crying out and smiling in the hope of getting something in return. That's because, while instinctual, exerting influence at the level at which it becomes effective in a complex economy and culture is as much a learned psychological art as it is a gift of gab.
Our Values Are Targets for Influence
To truly understand the power of influence, one needs to grasp the context from which it springs. According to Shalom H. Schwartz, Ph.D., of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, values are the result of belief systems linked to emotions, and thus they are a strong motivating factor in our daily decision making. These values define the sweet spot for intended influence, because the ultimate goal is to point the decision making of others to the destination of ou
Excerpted from 360 Degrees of Influence by HARRISON MONARTH. Copyright © 2012 by Harrison Monarth. Excerpted by permission of The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc..
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