How do we change others’ behavior? In business, it’s a challenge we face every moment. Can we persuade a customer to switch to our brand or service? Can we get the board or the C-Suite to approve our proposal? Can we convince a VC to fund our startup? The common denominator across all these tasks is influence. How do we make the case with sufficient influence? The solution lies in using tools informed by Neuroscience. Economics For Business talks with Rene Rodriguez about his book Amplify Your Influence (Mises.org/E4B_173_Book), and his research into the neuroscience behind influential interpersonal communication.
Key Takeaways and Actionable Insights.
Influence is a determinant of business success.
In the past, there was a classification distinction between “soft skills” in business management and the more highly respected quantitative capabilities of finance and strategic planning. Today, that is no longer the case. The ability to harness communication to change others’ behavior is fundamental to making progress in the business world, and an inability in this area means an executive or manager will be perceived as ineffective. Setting out a vision that no-one follows is fatal.
Influence is also the way to help people make better choices for themselves.
Influence can be considered by some to be manipulation, but there is absolutely no need for that perspective. Influence may be exerted to help people better evaluate the choices and options open to them. Influence is providing information that may not otherwise have been available to the audience, or that had not been considered in the most appropriate light. Influence unleashes what Rene Rodriguez terms “voluntary energy”; they are pleased and delighted to be offered a better decision-making path.
There is hard science behind the soft skills of influence.
Influence is applied neuroscience. Neuroscience explains how and why humans resist change. It’s a threat. The first reaction to any new information is often resistance. We don’t like to question what we believe we know, or abandon the guidelines on which we’ve been operating, or change the heuristics we use. It’s a common, shared trait.
That’s why influence is the “how” of leadership: influencing behavior change when the natural response is to resist it. It’s also the goal of marketing, teaching, managing, selling, and communicating.
It pays to learn a little bit about neuroscience for each of these actions.
The power to influence can be amplified by using three techniques.
As with any business tool, there are techniques that can be perfected to improve the performance in use. Rene highlighted three:
Sequencing: The brain processes information in certain sequences. First, it looks for threats (like “change” or “new ideas”) in order to sort between danger and safety. If it perceives a threat, it shuts down – no influential communication will get through, Next it seeks value – feelings of being valued, being engaged, being inspired. The right sequence of message delivery starts with a communication of positive value (so that the brain can believe it is in a safe place), followed by communication of caring, active engagement and inspiration.
Framing: people perceive their own reality through their own framing. If your frame of reference for pizza is high calories, excessive cheesy fat and too many carbohydrates, it doesn’t matter how delicious the pizza recipe Pizza Hut presents to you, you are going to be unreceptive. In the battle for attention and shared meaning, an influencer must set and claim the frame in advance of any message presentation. Communicators and innovators practice framing and reframing to improve their skills. For example, creative innovators always create the frame of solving a problem for others, requiring them to see the problem as others see it and experience it, and enabling the future communication of the solution as a relief of unease or removal of dissatisfaction or discomfort. Framing is based on empathy – seeing from others’ perspectives and aligning with their values. That’s why the Economics For Business value proposition design tool starts from “Who is the customer?” and “What is their need?”.
The tie-down: There needs to be a close. Our target audience’s brains are flooded with information from all directions at all times. We need to make our message stick. The tie-down is a tool to make sure the audience has the chance to understand what our information will mean to them, what value it can add to their lives, and how it will help them achieve their goals.
To ensure execution of the tie-down, Rene recommends that we all have an Influence Objective in mind: the specific action, thought or behavior we are aiming to influence. The tie-down is often a summary or emphasis of benefits, or a powerful takeaway or a “magic phrase”. It ties down our message in the audience’s brain.
The art of influence lies in storytelling.
Brain scans show that when we are caught up in a story told by a skilled storyteller, we stop daydreaming and become fully present. We become focused. We narrow our attention to what the storyteller is saying. There’s a response in positive brain chemistry, as well as empathy and trust — a neural coupling between the storyteller and the audience.
Stories help us organize data, discern value, and make better decisions. Influencers work hard at becoming good storytellers. Rene left us with a 10-step guide, which we provide as a free pdf.
Amplify Your Influence: Transform How You Communicate and Lead by Rene Rodriguez: Mises.org/E4B_173_Book
“10 Steps to Amplify Your Influence” (PDF): Mises.org/E4B_173_PDF