Category Archives: Influencer

Influencer QA

Advice for the Parents of the Marshmallow Eaters

Dear David,

I think many are familiar with the Marshmallow experiment to demonstrate the benefits of delayed rewards. Is there any corollary data that demonstrates that those challenged with delaying rewards (i.e. those who ate the marshmallow) also struggled with avoiding penalties? In other words, do those so inclined ALSO engage in little behaviors to avoid consequences? I think of my daughter who is a marshmallow eater (unlike her brother who would wait). She also would lie a little to cover up a small infraction. But the lie eventually grows to become something with much bigger consequences. The son who understands the value of waiting for rewards is also much more likely to confess a little mistake and “take his stripes” but avoids the major repercussions of a compounding issue. Does data back this up and how can we help those who would eat the marshmallow understand the value of waiting and the penalties of compounding mistakes?

Marshmallow Parent

Dear Marshmallow Parent,

Wow, you’ve put some great thought into this question. Yes, I think the marshmallow study may tie in to what you are observing. But that’s not where I want to start. I’d like to start with how you handle the little lies your daughter is telling.

When Children Lie: Lying is tough because it undermines trust and shows disrespect. It’s hard not to take it personally and get angry. Part of what I like about your question is that you approach the lie with concern and curiosity, rather than moral outrage. I think that’s the best approach you can take as a parent.

For children, lying is often a faulty form of problem-solving. Your daughter has gotten herself into a fix and a lie seems like the solution—albeit a very poor-quality solution. So, treat the lie as a lack of skill and help her work on her ability to problem solve.

Of course, you also have to hold her accountable. Think of a reasonable consequence related to the lie and the problem she was trying to cover up.

For example: Suppose your daughter said she was doing her term paper at a girlfriend’s house when actually she was visiting a young man.

Begin with: “I called Sarah’s house and learned you were at Tanner’s. When you lie to me about where you are and what you’re doing, it makes it harder to trust you. So, you’re grounded for the rest of this week and you can’t see Tanner this weekend.”

Then, explore why she felt she had to lie: “Help me understand why you felt you had to lie about this?” You aren’t looking for an excuse for the lie. Instead, you are trying to understand the reason for the lie.

Finally suggest a better solution: “I would prefer you say, ‘Mom, I know you want me to work on my term paper this evening, but I really want to see Tanner.’ I would listen, and we could talk about it. Of course, there is a good chance I’d say ‘No,’ and you’d be disappointed. But that’s not as bad as lying, and hurting the trust we have.”

Teach Self-Control: In Walter Mischel’s classic studies, he followed four-year-olds who were able to resist eating a marshmallow for fifteen minutes in order to get a second marshmallow. Years later, these strong-willed children scored hundreds of points higher on their college entrance exams, had stronger marriages, earned more in salary, and got promoted more often. He showed that the ability to delay immediate gratification in service of longer-term goals is an important skill.

What people often forget is that Walter, together with Albert Bandura, also showed that self-control is a skill that children must learn, not a capacity they inherit. I remember watching my next-door neighbor teach this skill to his four-year-old. We were at a pool that had a waterslide. The rule for the slide was to wait at the base of the ladder until the child in front of you had landed in the water and reached the side of the pool. Little Ryan had trouble remembering this rule. His father and I were in the water having a conversation, but every few seconds, he’d have to remind Ryan, “Wait, wait, watch the girl in front of you. Okay, now you can go!” Ryan must have gone down the slide fifty times, and, by the end, knew how to hold himself back without reminders.

Of course, Joe, my neighbor doesn’t just teach self-control at the pool. It is a part of his positive parenting every day. He seeks out these teaching moments when he can help his children develop character skills.

Teach Influence: As I suggested earlier, lying is often a child’s last-ditch effort to get their way, when they feel they have no ability to influence their parent. Helping a child mature is all about gradually, sensibly, and safely giving over control. Children who believe they can get their parents to change their minds are more likely to try dialogue and less likely to lie.

But this loosening of reins is easier to advocate than it is to practice. One of my sisters-in-law uses a parenting skill I admire. Suppose her fourth-grade daughter comes in and asks, “Can I go to Mary’s birthday party on Saturday?” Her mom won’t give her an answer right away. Instead, she’ll say, “Convince me,” and then help her daughter make the case. She’s teaching her children how to influence her and allowing them to succeed when it makes sense. As her children have grown into their teenage years and beyond, they’ve maintained this kind of open and honest dialogue with their mother—in part, I think, because they are confident they can influence her.

Do as I Say, not as I Do: Whenever I answer a question about parenting, I feel I need to add that I’m not a parent. My wife and I have 24 nieces and nephews, so we’ve gotten to witness some wonderful parenting, but I don’t practice what I preach. For example, over the years, we’ve had nephews and nieces join us for dozens of “Camp Davids”—hiking Bryce Canyon or the Olympic National Park, unicycling in Moab, and surf lessons in Southern Cal. But these fun adventures don’t really involve much parenting. In fact, Camp David only has one rule: “You can pick your friends, and you can pick your nose, but you can’t pick your friend’s nose.” So, my advice comes from skilled friends and relatives, not from hard-won experience.

Thanks again for your probing question. I look forward to hearing other perspectives on how to handle your situation.


Influencer QA

False Perceptions Revisited

Dear Emily,

I appreciated your blog article Recovering from False Perceptions. I agree that apologies can do more harm than good, and it is important to assess the need and/or reason for the apology. However, that post was more from the point of view of the individual with the false perception. I was interested to see what your advice would be to someone who feels they are the victim of false perceptions. I have an employee whose coworkers have labeled as lazy, uncaring, and untrustworthy. He wants to restore his image/brand with his coworkers and managers. What advice do you have for someone in this situation?

Wanting to Help

Dear Wanting to Help,

Combating false perceptions can be frustrating. We often feel as if we are the Victim: “Others have misjudged me despite my hard work, exemplary efforts, and noteworthy achievements!” We may cast our coworkers in a Villain role: “Why can’t they just see me for who I really am?” And then we start to feel Helpless: “This is so unfair and there is nothing I can do about it!”

So, while your question is about personal brand, I’d like to look at it through the lens of what we teach in Crucial Conversations Training about Mastering Our Stories. I will direct my comments directly to your employee, the person who wants to restore his brand.

Victim story: What am I pretending not to notice about my role?

Whenever we tell ourselves a Victim Story (“Woe is me! I am the best, hardest-working employee here and others have unjustly judged me as lazy, uncaring, and untrustworthy.”), we need to challenge our story by asking: “What I am pretending not to notice about my role in the problem?” I have several ideas on how this relates to perception and personal brand:

1. False perceptions don’t exist. There is only your perception of my behavior and my perception of my behavior. Just because your perception is different than mine doesn’t mean it is false. When I judge your perception as false, it lets me off the hook. It allows me to say, “I am right and good and just and you are wrong.” I get to stop looking at me and my behavior because my perception is true and yours is false. But, if I can accept your perception as valid and real, I can shift my thinking and open myself up to self-reflection. I can clearly see what things I have done or not done that may have contributed to your perception.

2. Accept the starting point. You don’t get to tell people what your personal brand is, anymore than Nordstrom or Coca-Cola get to tell people what their brand is. You get to act and people get to perceive. Their perception is your brand. We sometimes confuse personal brand with personal identity, personal values, or personal mission. It is easy to say, “That is not my brand. I am disciplined, focused, and driven.” While it may be true that your personal identity is disciplined, focused, and driven, and that your personal identity impacts your brand, recognize that it is not your brand. Your brand is how others perceive you, not how you perceive yourself. While you get to influence your brand, you don’t control it because you can only influence, never control, others’ perceptions.

Villain Story: Why would a reasonable, rational, decent person do this?

When we tell ourselves the story that someone else has falsely judged us, we get to cast them in the Villain role: “They are wrong. How could they be so unseeing of the true me?” The antidote to a Villain Story is to ask yourself: “Why would a reasonable, rational, decent person do (or think) this?”

3. Understand your brand. If you want to know why someone thinks of you as lazy and untrustworthy, the easiest way to find out is to ask them. But before you rush out to start this conversation, realize this—asking for feedback on your personal brand is NOT a crucial conversation. Sure, the stakes are high and your emotions may run strong. And yes, there are differing opinions. So why is this not a crucial conversation? When we talk about crucial conversations, the goal is to fill the Pool of Shared Meaning: yours and mine. In this particular case however, the goal is to fill the pool with only their meaning. This is a focus group, not a conversation.

Think of it this way. If I work in marketing and want to know what my company’s brand is in the marketplace, I get a group of people together and ask them questions about how they perceive my company. When they respond, I may probe deeper to understand. What I don’t do is say, “Oh, that is interesting and not at all what we are really about. Our company is actually very different than that and here’s why.”

Asking people about your brand is all about getting information and understanding your brand. It is not about you convincing others with your words that they should see you differently.

Helpless Story: What can I do right now to move toward what I really want?

When we accept that we can’t control others’ perceptions of us, it is tempting to tell ourselves a helpless story: “Their perception is their perception and there is nothing I can do.” We fail to see the difference between control and influence. While you can’t control others’ perceptions, you can influence them, as all good brand marketers know. You open yourself to influence when you consider this question: “What can I do right now to move toward what I really want?”

4. Build a positive brand, not a non-negative brand. Don’t wage war against your negative brand and try to convince people that you are “not lazy, not uncaring, and not untrustworthy.” Being “not lazy” is not a powerful brand. Rather than try to erase the negative brand, focus your attentions on defining what positive brand you want to create: “I am a hard worker that gets great results. I am a people person who cares deeply about individuals.”

Once you have defined that positive brand, consider what behaviors or actions on your part would drive that perception in others. What would someone see that would lead him or her to conclude that you are a hard worker who gets results? What would someone see that would lead him or her to the conclusion that you are a people person who cares deeply about individuals?

These might be new behaviors for you. But the key is that they need to be behaviors that are visible to others if they are going to impact others’ perceptions.

Armed with these new behaviors, you can then create a change plan for enacting these behaviors.

5. Close the loop. This is a powerful step in personal brand building. You have asked for feedback on your brand, accepted it, and now acted upon it. Now is the time to go back and close the loop. Return to those who gave you feedback and say: “Here is what I have done with the information you gave me. Have you seen an impact?”

This is powerful for two reasons. First, it validates and strengthens the relationship because you are demonstrating deep respect to the other person. You took what they said and did something about it.

Second, if the other person hasn’t noticed a change (and hence your brand hasn’t changed), this provides a nudge for them to reflect and re-evaluate. They might say, “I hadn’t noticed the change, but now that you point it out . . . ” Or, if upon reflection, they haven’t seen the change and their perception hasn’t begun to shift, that is a great data point for you as you consider whether the behaviors you have changed are driving the results you want.

I hope this gives you some helpful ideas. Just remember, your personal brand is about you, not about the other person. You can influence your brand when you stop telling yourself Victim, Villain, and Helpless Stories.

Good luck,

Influencer QA

How to Influence High Employee Turnover

Dear David,

I work as a director for a center that serves children with special needs. We are part of the Department of Pediatrics of a public university/hospital system. I have been the director for two years now and have an issue I am not sure how to solve. We work for a public institution, so the salaries for the caregivers who work in the classrooms are barely above minimum wage and not competitive locally. Because of this, our center is a revolving door for caregivers who are a critical part of our team. I am unable to raise the salary, so how do I keep employees, find new employees on a regular basis, and keep up the morale of the center and myself? I feel so discouraged most of the time because it’s an issue I can’t control, nor will it change in all likelihood. I am seriously considering leaving.

Best Regards,
Turnover Troubles

Dear Turnover Troubles,

Many leaders find themselves in your position. They struggle with turnover within their essential, but low-paying positions. I’ve worked with many of these leaders, so—while my advice won’t be especially welcome, it is truly battle-tested.

I think you need to re-set your expectations of what’s possible. You may not be able to ever “solve” your retention problem. The turnover numbers within your group may always be higher than ideal. However, there is a worse problem than actual turnover: It’s what we call “spiritual turnover.” Spiritual turnover happens when people stop being engaged, involved, motivated, or psychologically present at work. Their bodies may keep walking the halls, but their souls have left the building.

These organizational zombies are far more costly than actual physical turnover. They prevent your team from achieving its mission, and create safety and customer-experience problems as well. I think your goal should be to keep your employees as engaged and positive as possible—even when you know that many of them will only be with you until they find a better-paying job.

Gather Information: Begin by gathering information from two groups: a.) Long-term employees who you value and respect, and b.) Past employees who have been gone for at least three months.

Ask the long-term employees about their motivations for staying. Find out what is working for them. Is it pride in their work? Friendships with other team members? The impact they have on the people they serve? Work to build on these strengths.

Ask the past employees about why they left, what they liked/disliked about the job, and what they are doing now. One of your goals will be to reduce unappealing elements of the job. But, just as important, look for patterns in their career steps. For example, are your employees “graduating” to a better-paying job within healthcare? Within your same hospital? Are they going back to school? Are they really getting better-paying jobs, or are they stuck?

Connect to Values: Employee engagement requires a strong connection to at least one of the following four values:

  • Development: Some find meaning in the growth the job offers—in the way it prepares them for the next step in their career.
  • Job: Some find meaning in the tasks or the craft of the job. They identify with the profession.
  • Customers: Some find meaning in helping the people they serve—in your case the children and their families.
  • Team: Some find meaning in being a valued member of a winning team—in close friendships and being counted on by others.

I’ll suggest a few actions you can take in each of these areas.

Development: I hope your past employees have moved on to better jobs—and that they see their time with you as having helped their careers. One approach you might take is to turn your team into a world-class farm team for your hospital (or for professional schools). Make sure your employees get the training, experience, and coaching that will help them be most valuable to other departments. Create opportunities for employees to showcase their skills and to learn more about opportunities they can strive for. Your employees will value their time with you, because they see what you are doing for their careers. Employees will want to join your team, because they know it’s a great way to enter into a career in healthcare.

Job: My experience is that teachers take a lot of pride in their profession—and are also quick to point out obstacles that prevent them from practicing their profession. Often the best way to tap in to this source of motivation is by removing distractions and disruptions so that your employees can focus on what they do best. In addition, set high professional standards, and involve the whole team in holding each other accountable for achieving them. It’s hard to take pride in your work, if the standard isn’t high.

Customers: My guess is that most, if not all, of your employees take pride in the impact they have on the children and families they serve. Build on this pride by making these connections more visible, more personal, and more frequent. Find ways to track the impact your employees are having, and share and celebrate this impact. Create face time between your employees and children’s families.

Team: Make sure your employees feel like a valuable part of your team. Find ways to have them work with partners or in small groups. Create opportunities for them to get to know each other—and discover similar interests beyond work. Make sure each person knows that others on the team are counting on them, and value their contributions.

I hope these suggestions will help. Again, I think employee engagement is a better measure than turnover for leaders in your position.

Best of Luck,

Influencer QA

Motivation or Ability?

Dear Joseph,

I have an employee who is not aware of conversation protocols we all take for granted. He talks on and on without noticing the other person wants to leave the conversation. He questions people excessively, demanding exact details and when they don’t provide what he wants, he tells them how disappointed he is. He misses cues—taking things literally that were meant figuratively—and generally just doesn’t seem to “get it.” When I recommend he work on communication skills and supply resources for doing so, he denies he has a communication issue. The issue is affecting the morale of other team members, and people are starting to avoid him. How do we help him see the need for change?

Communication Gaps

Dear Communication Gaps,

You raise a very interesting question—one that has got my “spidey sense” tingling. You’ve laid out a set of clues that I suspect is making many of our readers jump to the same conclusion I am. But before I go there, let me suggest a principle.

When you want to address someone’s behavior, your first task is to diagnose. You must try to determine whether their current behavior represents a motivation problem, an ability problem, or a mix of the two. When your employee talks long past others’ interest, is he doing that because he doesn’t care about others’ needs, or because he simply doesn’t see the cues? When he tells you he has no communication issues, is it because he is knowingly arrogant, or sincerely unaware? Or some of both? How you answer this question can point you in completely different directions for a response.

And that’s where my “spidey sense” comes in. You describe a pattern of behaviors—including missing social cues, obsession with detail, inability to differentiate substantive from irrelevant information, missed conversational subtlety (sarcasm, figurative references)—that sound like classic symptoms of Asperger syndrome or something on the Autism spectrum. Here’s a description you can use to see if other evidences of Asperger’s fit what you’re experiencing.

If you conclude someone has the ability to behave appropriately but chooses not to, you’ve got a motivation problem. You can respond by helping them understand how their behavior affects others. You can impose consequences. You can help them see how it will undermine values they already hold. There’s a lot you can do to influence motivation.

If, on the other hand, the person lacks ability, you can offer training or coaching. But now we must nuance even the diagnosis of ability problems. There is a difference between ignorance and disability. In the first case, your employee has the basic cognitive and motor capacity to behave differently, but has no training in doing so. If this were the situation, your challenge would be to find a way to convince him of his behavioral problem and then engage him in an acceptable process of development.

If, however, he is in the second case, the situation is much more difficult. With Asperger syndrome, and even with other Autism spectrum disorders, development is possible. However, it comes with much more profound practice and feedback than your typical skill building class. If your employee has a challenge of this kind, and has not been diagnosed, you are in a tricky situation for attempting to influence change. You will have a much more difficult time helping him see his own behavioral gaps. And, any intervention you suggest to help him address the gaps would have to measure up to the special hurdles he’ll face in developing greater interpersonal sensitivity.

If this were my dear friend, I would do three things:

  1. Validate whether Asperger’s might be involved by looking more broadly at his behaviors and Asperger syndrome indicators.
  2. Lovingly broach the subject of his behaviors and their coincidence with this condition.
  3. Suggest further diagnosis.

Given that he is an employee, you have extra HR considerations I urge you to review. And within those boundaries, I would find a way to be as helpful to him as I could.

I wish you the best,

Influencer QA

Vital Behaviors for Entrepreneurs

Dear Crucial Skills,

In reading Influencer, it’s clear the process starts with identifying the vital behaviors that drive the change you’re looking for. Having access to data that has pre-identified the correct vital behaviors for a given problem is of great use.

My challenge is to grow my sales very quickly. I am a one-man manufacturer’s rep organization that depends on full commission sales. I have a wealth of experience and have been successful working for others but this is my first entrepreneurial venture. The way I see it, there are vital behaviors I can influence on myself and the bigger challenge is changing vital behaviors of customers.

Any insight would be most appreciated.


Dear Entrepreneur,

This is a great question. The Influencer approach asks you to invest everything in just a few behaviors and then employs influence strategies from the six sources of influence to improve these behaviors. Before I answer your question, I’ll review a few broad points.

What Makes a Behavior Vital?

There are many factors that can turn a behavior from “important” to “vital.” I’ll highlight three conditions:

Vital behaviors lead directly to results. An executive in Florida told me he knew the vital behavior for winning Dragon Boat races (a large outrigger canoe driven by 20 paddlers). When I asked about the behavior, he answered: “Paddling.” He explained that when racers debated about technique or strategy someone would inevitably shout, “Shut up and paddle!” and that’s when they’d win. Many vital behaviors are similarly obvious. They are the most direct route to the results you care about.

Vital behaviors break self-defeating patterns. Let’s look at the life cycle of the Guinea Worm. African villagers drink water infected with Guinea Worm larvae; the Guinea Worm hatch and grow inside them; after several months the worm emerges, causing excruciating pain; to lessen the pain, villagers soak their burning limbs in the water source and re-infect the water. A team from the Carter Center found the three vital behaviors that broke this self-defeating cycle: 1. Filter the water before drinking; 2. Don’t put infected limbs in the water source; and 3. Hold everyone accountable for these first two behaviors.

Vital behaviors cause many other positive behaviors to follow. Vital behaviors are often the most difficult to adopt. However, if you can get people to perform them, many other positive and easier behaviors follow. For example, when Mike Miller tried to build a culture of accountability at Sprint, he focused on just two vital behaviors: 1. Hold bosses accountable and 2. Hold peers accountable. He didn’t need to add “Hold subordinates accountable” because this behavior followed as a result of the vital behaviors.

How Do You Find the Vital Behaviors?

There are many strategies for finding and testing vital behaviors. Look for experts who have already identified and tested the behaviors. Look for positive deviants—people who are already succeeding at the behavior. Or, track your own successes and failures to determine what works for you.

Whatever the vital behaviors you choose, set a challenging goal and measure your improvement. In addition, track the results you care about. Analyze and adjust to fine tune the vital behaviors.

Answering the Question

I’ve used the “find the experts” method to identify vital behaviors related to your success as a manufacturers’ rep. Specifically, I searched the Internet for about an hour. I broke your task into two elements: 1) you are a first-time entrepreneur. There are behaviors that separate successful from less successful entrepreneurs. 2) You are a manufacturers’ rep—a unique job with unique behaviors.

Entrepreneurial Behaviors: I visited a credible site, Harvard Business Review, and entered the search terms: entrepreneur “manufacturers rep”.

One article popped up and it had a few nice rules of thumb:

  • Use your own experience. 71% of entrepreneurs start ventures that solve problems the founders have grappled with personally.
  • Take action quickly: Entrepreneurs don’t get bogged down in research or planning. They move quickly to action. They try simple and inexpensive solutions and adjust on the fly.
  • It’s about hustle, not proprietary advantage. This isn’t always true, but it’s true for you. As a manufacturers’ rep you won’t have proprietary advantage, so your success depends largely on your hustle.

Though helpful, these points aren’t vital behaviors nor are they very specific to your job.

Next, I went to Google Scholar and entered the search terms: “manufacturer’s rep” skills.

Most of the hits were academic articles that describe the economic reasons a manufacturing firm might choose to distribute its products through manufacturer’s reps. But I focused on a single article that seemed to point toward behaviors, The Independent Rep As A Source Of Competitive Advantage: An Actionable Scale For Rep Selection (Gruben and Coe, 2003). A few key points:

  • Manufacturer’s reps are most commonly used to sell niche products that are simple and inexpensive within a fragmented marketplace. Often they sell commodities that are used in specialized applications.
  • Suppliers contract with reps because of the reps’ extensive contacts and tight relationships with multiple customers. Commonly the customer has greater loyalty to the rep than to the supplier.
  • A customer’s loyalty to their rep is not based on the products but the customer service. The article dissects the customer-service behaviors required of a manufacturers’ rep.

We are now getting close to vital behaviors. You need to: 1) Create a wide network of buyers; 2) Fill small-batch orders accurately and on a just-in-time basis, and 3) Provide excellent customer service.

Now if these are the three best practices, how have you grappled with them as a customer or employee? What are the problems you believe you can focus on solving? If it were me, here are the vital behaviors I would start with:

  1. Build my network: Each week contact at least five viable potential customers for products I already represent.
  2. Fill orders: Contact each of my customers at least once a week in a nonintrusive way to make sure I understand their current needs.
  3. Customer service: Have face time with at least one important customer per week. Meet personally with each customer at least quarterly.


I researched the field; I read a few articles to find best practices; I examined myself to consider the obstacles and approaches I would take to act on the best practices; and finally, I would hustle to drive these behaviors through the roof, meanwhile tracking my sales to see if it’s working. I’d continue to analyze and adjust my vital behaviors, especially during the first few months, until I found what worked for me.

Best of luck,

Influencer QA

Influencing Good Study Habits

Dear Steve,

My son is twelve going on thirteen and is in the seventh grade. I understand seventh grade is a difficult adjustment, however he simply refuses to do his classwork and homework. He has been tested for learning disabilities as well as emotional problems, but was declared a bright and healthy young teen—both emotionally and physically. We have tried many methods of both punishment and rewards systems, but nothing seems to work. He simply refuses to do his work in class and at home, and he only does his homework when I am watching him. This method is not helping anyone. Additionally, his attitude toward school has greatly affected his ability to make friends and connect with his peers; his grades are so poor, he has been prevented from joining social clubs and activities. I am truly at a loss as to how I can help him achieve success in life. What would you suggest?

At Wit’s End

Dear At Wit’s End,

In my experience, one of the biggest contributing factors to why you feel so stuck is that you don’t know why you’re stuck! And you don’t know if it’s something he’ll eventually grow out of or even how long it might last. For me, it’s actually the worst kind of stuck. It feels so frustrating because no matter what you try, nothing seems to change. This feeling is compounded by the fact that this problem is not inconsequential—it’s his education.

First of all, when you find yourself in this type of situation, you need to resist the temptation to jump from solution to solution. You try something, it doesn’t work, so on to the next idea until finally, you feel your only option is to administer consequences in increasingly creative, and severe, ways. Now you’ve entered The Escalation Zone!

Now, what to do. I’d submit that these types of situations require a second or third look at what is driving the person’s actions. Our assumptions are often partially, and sometimes completely, wrong. As a result, our solutions and remedies fall short, leaving us frustrated. These types of situations are well suited to the Six Sources of Influence™.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the model, it’s based on the idea that in order for people to do something, they have to be both motivated and able—they have to want to do it, and know how or be able to do it. We’ve found this very useful in understanding behavior choice. The Six Source Model helps us examine those two conditions at three levels: Personal, Social, and Structural. A close examination of all six of these sources of influence helps us be more effective. We can expand our view of why people do what they do and consider factors outside of those we naturally gravitate toward when diagnosing.

So, here is a quick run down of the sources and how each might be contributing to the problem:

Source 1: Personal Motivation.
This source assesses the intrinsic motivators that affect behavior choice. So, does this your son find value in or derive satisfaction from doing schoolwork? It sounds like from your comments the answer is a big “NO!” And before you start to think, “Tell me something I don’t already know,” let me say that there is a catch to this source that can be tricky. If a person is facing significant barriers over a long period of time, their overall frustration builds up to the point that it boils over into personal motivation. So an, “I hate this,” might not really be an “I hate this.” Hmmm. On to Source 2 for a little more explanation.

Source 2: Personal Ability. With Source 2, examine the skills, knowledge, and overall wherewithal a person has to engage in any given behavior. The sad truth is that when people feel like they aren’t able to do something, it affects their motivation—they start to like it less.

I was working on a literacy project many years ago in Tennessee. We researched causes of illiteracy and found that those who rated reading very low as an activity they enjoyed also indicated that they didn’t know how to read. Years of not being able to read affected their overall feelings toward the activity. We also discovered that if we worked on their reading skills, they found the activity much more enjoyable. So maybe your son doesn’t have good study skills (how to take notes, skim vs read, etc.), or doesn’t do as well with organization and prioritization skills.

Sources 3 & 4: Social Motivation and Ability. How are other people affecting him? Does he have new friends that encourage or discourage certain behaviors? Does he need help from a tutor? What impact are you, his family, having on him? In our house, we realized that when one of our sons (the oldest) said negative things about schoolwork, the youngest started to do the same.

Source 5: Structural Motivation. In source 5, we take a look at incentives and punishments. As parents, we tend to rely on these too heavily when it comes to getting our children to do what we want them to do. I know that I’ve relied far too often on punishment to teach my kids what I hope they learn instead of coaching and training.

When it comes to this source, I’d encourage you to think of how to use rewards also. For example, we used to get our kids to identify something they enjoy doing like playing a board game. They could use this to reward themselves for staying on task.

Source 6: Structural Ability. Here we look at the tools and resources a person has versus those he or she might need. Is there a system, or method that your son would benefit from? Is there a structure or schedule that would get him to perform better?

And while all of the solutions cited above are good ideas, the best and most effective ideas are those that address the barriers the individual person—in this case your son—is facing. Even though you’ve already done an analysis, it can be useful to look again to make sure the root causes aren’t being masked by something else.

Now, you will probably find that those whom you are trying to influence also face barriers from each of these sources. This is a fairly common occurrence. But many of us, when faced with multi-faceted barriers, look to only one source of influence for solutions. Instead, try implementing solutions from the sources you diagnosed as “at risk” concurrently and see what happens—especially with challenges that seem intractable and insurmountable.

Good luck, and may the “source” be with you!

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Influencer QA

Influence Versus Manipulation

Dear David,

The culture in my organization is toxic. We have intelligent, proud, committed leaders who are beginning to learn the talk of collaboration and empowerment. However, they still cling to the quick-and-dirty solution of compliance. My question is, how is intentional influence different from manipulation? I fear that the concept of intentional influence will enable a dysfunctional culture. I think cultural change in medicine will be a long, slow process if it is to be meaningful and sustainable. But how do we avoid manipulation/forced compliance in the process?

Committed to Functional Change

Dear Committed,

This is a nice, hard question. I like the thought you’ve put into it, and I’ll try to give it the kind of answer it deserves. First, I want to explore the toxic environment you describe because it’s a common problem for cultures in transition. Second, I’ll focus on intentional influence and tackle the conundrum of influence without manipulation.

Your Toxic Environment. It sounds as if you have leaders who talk the right talk and may buy in to the need to improve collaboration and empowerment across the culture. But, when they need quick action, they revert to their old ways of forced compliance. It’s a classic case of actions speaking louder than words. People see them as hypocrites and the culture becomes toxic. Here are a few ideas for overcoming this hurdle.

Crucial moments. Humans are hard-wired for self-protection. As a result, we are always on the lookout for bad news—and we’re naturally suspicious of good news. This makes us quick to read bad intent in others’ actions. So, when leaders talk the talk about collaboration and empowerment, we tend to hold back and watch their actions for evidence of their true intent.

We’re also pretty good at masking our own motives—putting on a good face—and we know our leaders are good at it too. So we don’t trust their more scripted and formal interactions. The evidence we find most credible is how they behave when the stakes are high, and supporting new values requires painful sacrifices. It’s these crucial moments that test leaders’ resolve.

Hypocrites and heroes. In these crucial moments, leaders’ actions will make them either hypocrites or heroes. There is safe ground in between.

The temptation is to revert to familiar tactics from the old culture, which is what you’ve witnessed in your organization. When action needs to be fast, your leaders revert to forced compliance and look like hypocrites. Using old tactics to create new norms can create some weird situations. For example, I visited a company that had created what they called their “MPM program” to introduce greater empowerment into their stubborn culture. I asked what MPM stood for and the frustrated senior leader said, “Mandatory Participative Management.”

The best leaders capitalize on crucial moments by doubling down on their support for the new culture. They turn the crucial moment into a symbol of their support by making a sacrifice. By sacrifice, I mean a trade-off. They trade another value—their time, ego, money, or another priority—in favor of the new cultural value. Here’s an example: A CEO of a major aerospace and defense corporation was in the middle of an employee-feedback session when his assistant passed him a message, “The Prince has arrived a half hour early.” The Prince was a royal buyer who was there to discuss a multi-billion dollar order. This was a crucial moment, and the CEO recognized it. Royalty doesn’t like to be kept waiting and the sale was important. In the old culture, the CEO would have ended the feedback session on the spot. But this time he didn’t. Instead, he explained the situation to the group and then said, “I know you’ve all invested time and energy in preparing for this meeting. And I’m anxious to hear your perspectives. Let’s continue our meeting. I’ll have my assistant work with the Prince until we’ve wrapped up here.” He put his meeting with the Prince at risk in favor of getting feedback. You can bet people noticed. Making the trade-off signaled that the CEO’s verbal support for employee input was genuine and sincere.

Intentional Influence. How can leaders drive rapid change without resorting to forced compliance or manipulation? We wrote Influencer: The New Science of Leading Change in order to answer this exact question. I’ll outline a few key concepts so you can see how the process works.

Manipulation versus influence. First, I’ll define manipulation, so we can see how influence is different. An action is manipulative if it derives a part of its power from subterfuge—i.e., from being hidden or underhanded. If explaining exactly what you are doing and why makes the action less effective, then it is manipulative. The influence strategies we teach in Influencer are just the opposite: they become more powerful as people understand how and why they are being used.

Make the business case for change. Don’t assume that a desire for open dialogue will be enough to drive culture change. Instead, make a detailed business case that ties these behaviors to bottom-line results. Share the facts you have—the good, the bad, and the ugly—about the need for the cultural change.

Measure it like it matters. Measure both behavior change and results. Cascade behavior change goals as key performance indicators for senior leaders, managers, and employees at all levels.

Turn leaders into influencers. Involve both formal and informal leaders in all phases of the culture-change initiative. These leaders, including senior leaders, must teach, model, and hold each other accountable for the new norms.

Employ all Six Sources of Influence™. Too often leaders rely on a single source solution. For example, they over-rely on training, or incentives, or motivational speeches and posters. Our research has shown that combining four or more different Sources of Influence makes you ten times more likely to succeed.

Culture change doesn’t have to move at a glacial pace. If the organization recruits all Six Sources of Influence to work for the change, they will find that the improvements are profound, rapid, and enduring.

Best of Luck,

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