Would the ability to influence your customers, your work colleagues, your partner or even your children be valuable to you? Michael Pantalon wrote the book Instant Influence to do just that. He gives us a scientifically supported method that gets people to take action because they want to. In fact, it’s even possible to use the Instant Influence methodology on yourself. Spend the next few minutes with me exploring how you can be a master of influence.
Can you motivate anyone in 7 minutes?
Have you ever found yourself wondering why the people in your life won’t change, despite the numerous logical reasons you’ve pointed out to them? As it turns out, that type of persuasion rarely – if ever – works. As Pantalon tells us, people change because of their own reasons. That’s the secret sauce of Instant Influence –it helps people discover their own justification for doing something, even something they thought they didn’t want to do.When someone genuinely doesn’t want to change, change won’t happen. But even the most reluctant of us has a tiny spark of desire to change hidden within. Helping us find that spark can literally transform our lives.
People take action when they hear themselves say that they want to. Get someone to tell you why and action to change is almost sure to follow. Pantalon uses this notion at the heart of his Instant Influence method and he extends it with the following four assumptions:
1. We are free to choose how we behave. 2. Other people can threaten that freedom by attempting to impose control. 3. We tend to react very negatively when our freedom is threatened, making us more resistant to the control being applied. 4. Our freedom can be restored by asserting self-determination and taking control ourselves.
The key point is how we frame our attempt to influence. We need to take the frame of our focus not our own. Our influencing conversation must contain statements such as:
“This is your choice, not mine.”
“It’s completely your decision.”
“You’re free to do whatever you want”
“I can’t make this choice for you – it’s up to you.”
All of these give power back to the influencee, brightens the spark and gives ignition to change.
Pantanlon’s Instant Influence method consists of six progressive steps leading to change. In challenging situations we may need to move through each stage. In other cases – having created the spark – the influencee takes control and accelerates the process themselves.
But let’s move step by step.
Step #1: Why might you change?
The first challenge we must meet is how to put the influencee in a position where they are able to visualise themselves in the desired situation. In most cases you will have identified what you want to change and what the desired outcome should look like. It’s not news to your family member who doesn’t have a healthy diet that continuing down that path might lead to health problems.
So you need to phrase questions in such a way as to challenge the influencee to see themselves in that scene. Instead of focussing on the negative behaviour, Pantalon suggests we look for desirable behaviour close to where we want to get to.
He suggests asking questions such as:
Why are you doing …..? (Where the focus is close to the target) for example, “Why did you choose salad today” for someone who wished to lose weight. Follow up with “Why would you do more?”
Pantanlon suggests we could focus on the past and ask: “Why have you ever[done the thing we’re talking about]?”
There are some questions we need to avoid especially as we have identified, those which sound like orders:
Why don’t you…? Why haven’t you…? Why wouldn’t you…?
Pantalon then suggests we use a technique psychologists and counselors call reflection. Reflection is the process of repeating back, or echoing, what the other person has just said, as if you are holding up a mirror to his words. We need to reflect back even the tiniest spark of motivation to help the other person see more clearly what it is he already wants. Having kindled the spark we need to give it more oxygen.
Step #2: How ready are you to change?
The next step starts with the deceivingly simple question: on a scale from 1 to 10, where 1 means “not ready at all” and 10 means “totally ready”, how ready are you to make that change? The goal of Step 2 is to help you and the other person gauge their motivation.
Pantalon suggests we don’t attach too much importance to the numbers. A low number doesn’t mean that they’re not likely to take action, nor does a high number mean that they are likely to take action. What’s important isn’t the number but the process of thinking about why they might want to do something.
We then move quickly to…
Step #3: Why didn’t you pick a lower number?
This is where the technique gets interesting. Why would someone who they think is trying to encourage them to do more ask why we didn’t do less? If somebody picks a low number, this will usually stop them in their tracks. Then they’ll start thinking of the reasons why they didn’t choose a “1” instead of a “3”.
This is where the person starts to uncover some real reasons why they are ready to change. The critical part is that the reasons for change are coming out of their mouth and not yours. They are no longer being told what to do and will now feel like they are ready to make a change because they want to. This is incredibly powerful stuff.
Step #4: Imagine you’ve changed. What would the positive outcomes be?
Here’s where we start to crystalise the benefits of change. We can suggest that the change has already happened and encourage the person to visualise the change in detail. Ask them what would be different in their life. What would they be able to do now that they’ve changed that they couldn’t do before?
If you feel like things are going really well, you can even ask them to give a deadline of when you think the change would be complete. Pantanlon’s research has shown that people are far more likely to change if they think of the upside of changing, rather than the downside of not changing.
Step #5: Why are those outcomes important to you
In step 5 we are getting close to visible change itself. But before then we need to once more take the frame of the influencee. Pantalon asks us to ask them to dig deep for reasons to make the change. The familiar Five Whys technique is of value here. Ask, “Why are those outcomes important to you?” and for each answer ask why.
By the time you’ve got to the fifth why, you’ve most likely reached a true personal reason, close to the heart of the influence. Don’t be surprised if they become emotional at this stage. It’s sometimes quite a journey. Invariably, the answers move almost magically from the practical and impersonal to the heartfelt and deeply personal.
Again, the technique of reflection is valuable. The influencee needs to hear back how you understand how they’re hopeful, what they want, why they want it and how they truly believe things could be better.
Step #6: What’s the next step, if any?
The final step no longer looks at the whys, but turns to the hows. “What’s the next step, if any?” Adding those two little words – if any – is another way to reinforce the other person’s autonomy: it’s still up to her to decide whether there will be a next step.Now you are ready for one final action.
Ask their permission to meet again after an appropriate time has elapsed to review progress and to re-commit to the change. As stated, it’s likely that all six steps may not be necessary. Taking a structured approach to encourage change can often be the trigger for the influencee to take control themselves.
We’ve spent a lot of time talking about influencing others, but you can also use the Instant Influence technique to influence yourself. Here is Pantalon’s self-influence process:
Identify a change you’d like to make or an action you’d like to take. Formulate it in terms of behaviour, not results.
Write down the first Instant Influence question (Why might I change?), and then write down your answer. Move on to the next step, writing down your answers until you reach Step 5.
When you get to Step 5, write “Why?” then answer. Repeat four more times so that you’ve asked and answered the “five whys.”
When you reach Step 6, choose a small, manageable step, and pick a time that you will check back in with yourself to review your progress and choose a next step.
Advice for applying the method
Start small. Keep looking for smaller and smaller beginning steps until you find one that feels safe or that you can at least visualise doing.
Allow for the possibility that any problem might have many different solutions.
Focus on action, not decisions. We often focus too much on the how when we really should be looking at the why. But sometimes the how is the problem, and acquiring skills may be all that’s needed to get the ball rolling.
Don’t judge or self-censor. Just be open to the process.
Prepare to be surprised. You will almost certainly learn something new about your own reasons for wanting something.
Trust the process. You may find yourself taking action almost without realising it, so don’t feel you need to force yourself.
Have you consulted an expert? Experts may be able to identify whether the problem is one of skill or will.
Motivation is like a seed that sprouts and begins to grow while still underground. We may know it’s there, but we don’t always trust that one day it will break through to the light.
Affirm the influencee’s right to say no. Affirm their ownership of the decision.
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