When we successfully influence, we build solutions that everyone can live with. These solutions don’t always come easily, and often people involved must change their thinking and behavior. How much change is required? It will depend upon the person. That’s why it’s important to assess the degree and difficulty of the changes up front, and change your methods of communicating accordingly.
Small or easy changes? Based on your relationship and expertise, people will likely respond to your telling them what they need to do. If the change is harder to do, you can reduce resistance by using a fact-based story to illustrate the situation and potential consequences. For more difficult or substantial change, you may need to do something that gets the person involved in the situation or simulate what is going on.
Visualization is a valuable simulation tool to help people clearly understand the state of affairs. Visualization is creating a story picture that is a clear and compelling summary of the current conditions.
Influence requires that you paint a picture for people – one that they can not only understand, but one that compels them to action. Some necessary components of your story picture include:
- Show cause and effect. Rather than overwhelming people with numbers, charts and graphs, tell the story. Share only what is needed to illustrate that A causes B and B causes C.
- Provide context for comparison. Answer the compelling question, “Compared to what?” For example, “Our sales are 23% lower than last year, and 27% lower than our biggest competitor.”
- Define assumptions and limitations of the data. Don’t try to hide contrary indicators. Openly explore the indicators that your “facts” may be wrong.
- Address alternative explanations and contrary cases. What other stories fit the data? What data does not fit the story you want to tell? For example, “The recent surge in sales may be due to our competitor’s supply chain problems, not our recent marketing campaign.”
Influence requires that we break complex ideas into simpler, bite-sized chunks, without losing the full weight of the message. Or, as Albert Einstein said, “My aim is to make things as simple as possible, but not simpler than that.” Luckily, you don’t have to be Albert Einstein to influence others. You do need to communicate clearly and concisely, paint an accurate picture and tell the whole story.
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