Influence and Decision-Making

B. Kim Barnes
From “The Influence Guru”, January 27, 2023

Group making a decisionInfluencing another person requires that person to make a decision – whether to say yes, say no, discuss, negotiate, or offer an alternative that you both can live with. Decision-making related to influence is generally driven by needs, which can be practical or emotional in nature. Sometimes the need is obvious and discussable, such as a need for more time or resources. Sometimes the need is emotional and perhaps below awareness, but powerful all the same. While we may prefer to think of ourselves as rational and thoughtful decision-makers, recent studies by brain scientists and behavioral economists have shown that emotional needs are frequently the primary drivers behind our decisions. Here are some of those needs:

  • Belonging – Being part of and associated with a specific group, tribe, or community
  • Control/power – Having autonomy over one’s life, being free to make important choices
  • Confirmation – Having one’s beliefs and opinions approved, supported, and verified
  • Respect – Experiencing the acceptance and esteem of important others
  • Well-being/safety – Feeling protected, secure and confident about one’s life and that of loved ones
  • Meaning – Being able to make a positive contribution to one’s profession or community through one’s work or life

Successful influencers will “think themselves into” the mind of the person they are hoping to influence. To identify with the other is not only a useful behavior, but also a key process in developing a successful approach to influencing another person. Below are some things to consider, once you have clarified your goal/objective and identified possible issues:

  • What is currently “top of mind” for the other? What is he or she most concerned about right now?
  • What are some areas of common interest (that will be obvious to the other) between you related to the action you’d like him or her to take?
  • What possible conflicting interests might arise, given the issues that are raised by your goal/objective? Even if you don’t agree that the other might have something to lose by taking the action you would like him/her to take, what might the other fear losing?
  • What “felt needs” (i.e., needs that he or she experiences) does the other have that might drive her or his decision-making about this? What could I offer or how might I frame my approach to respond to those needs? For example:

Practical needs:

  • Time – how flexible am I willing to be?
  • Resources – what can I offer that would make it less costly for the other to do what I am asking of them?
  • Assistance – what can I or others do to make it easier?
  • Support – how can I help the other person to justify or explain the action to important others?
  • Education – what does the other need to know in order to take this action?

Emotional needs:

  • Belonging – how can I frame this as part of an important team or group effort?
  • Control/power – how can I provide the other assurance of autonomy or independence in taking the action?
  • Confirmation – how can I honestly align the proposed action with values and goals that are important to the other?
  • Respect – how can I show the other how they are important to the success of the longer-term effort?
  • Well-being/safety – how can I reduce any fears associated with taking the action?
  • Meaning – how can I demonstrate the importance of this action to larger goals of the organization?

Identifying with the other person allows us to be thoughtful and generous in how we approach influencing them.


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