How Questions Increase Influence

(Part 2 of 2 Parts)

Wendel, a long-time supervisor, disagreed with the company’s attendance policy and sometimes failed to enforce it.  When Wendel’s manager explained the reasons for the policy, Wendel’s typical response was, “Our policy is too harsh.  Good workers should not lose pay for an occasional lapse.”

Wendel’s manager retired and Sofia assumed his role.  Sofia quickly became aware of Wendel’s inconsistent enforcement.  However, rather than explaining the benefits of consistent enforcement, Sofia used questions to influence Wendel.

“Are you aware of our attendance policy?” Sofia asked.

“Yes, I am,” Wendel responded.

“Do you think you are consistently applying the policy?”

“Probably not.  People do not miss work on purpose.”

“Is your approach fair to other supervisors who are enforcing the policy?

“I’m not leading their departments.”

“Are you aware of the company’s legal jeopardy caused by your inconsistency?”

“Not really. The company can take care of itself.”

“Do you think legal action would have implications for you?”

Sofia started with a softball question allowing Wendel to confirm his knowledge of the policy.  Then she moved to hardball questions that implied more serious implications for the company and for Wendel.

Effective managers rely on both declarative statements and thoughtful questions in their influencing attempts.

How Declarative Statements Increase Influence

(Part 1 of 2 Parts)

While working on a project with a tight deadline, Jessica made a critical error and it did not seem to bother her too much.

When Emma, the team leader inquired, Jessica said, “It doesn’t matter all that much if we are late.  They don’t expect us to complete these projects on time anyway.”

“Jessica,” Emma explained, “the deadline is important.  I want you to correct the error and help get the project back on schedule because it will improve customer satisfaction and revenue.”

Emma used the pronoun “I” and the word “because” in a declarative statement to express her opinion about Jessica’s behavior.  This influence tactic is frequently used and can be quite effective.

However, I have observed that many influencers shy away from using “I” and prefer to substitute the pronoun “we.”  For example, “We need to do what we can to get back on schedule.”  The use of “we” by Emma would have made her expectation of Jessica far less clear.

Some influencers also leave out the word “because.”  Emma by including “because” explained the reason why the schedule was important.

Declarative statements that include both “I” and “because” increase the likelihood of influencing the behaviors of others.



How the Word “Because” Increases Your Influence

“Excuse me, I have five pages.  May I use the Xerox machine?”

“Excuse me, I have five pages.  May I use the Xerox machine because I’m in a rush?”

In a famous study by Ellen Langer and others appearing in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, sixty percent of the persons in line complied with the first request.  Ninety-four percent complied with the second request.  Why?  The second request contained the magic word “because” which triggered giving the reason.

Best-selling author, Nancy Duarte, says that most do a good job of explaining what they want.  But they are pretty inept at explaining the “why.”

For example, “Could you complete this environmental audit, using the attached spreadsheet, by Friday?”  The “what” is clear (environmental audit) and the “how” is apparent (attached spreadsheet).  But the “why” is missing.

When asked about the missing “why”, the manager said, “The reason is obvious.  Failure to document could result in consequences.  The other party may or may not have been aware of the manager’s assumption.

Increase your persuasion by ensuring that the word “because” is part of the request.  For example, “Could you complete this environmental audit, using the attached spreadsheet, by Friday because we need the documentation to prove compliance to the auditors?”