Business communication expert explains how to influence behavior

Finding “vital behaviors,” recognizable and repeatable actions, can lead to becoming a successful influencer, said Al Switzler, business communication expert and New York Times best-selling author.

“We all want to be influencers. Hardly a day passes that we don’t try to influence ourselves or others to do something new and different,” Switzler told GBC members at a Business and Professional Development Series presentation on January 15.

Influence is important, but some people say they are just simply bad at it. Some managers have increased productivity repeatedly and significantly, while others have failed miserably, he said. Switzler explained if there are people who can significantly influence disease and poverty, change is not only “achievable and sustainable, but inevitable.”

Masters of change insist on “clarifiable” results, what they really want and are time-bound. For example, rather than saying “you want to lose weight by exercising and eating healthier, say I want to lose 26 pounds by August … stop drinking sodas and eat more fruit … with a goal to be able to get on the floor and play with my grandkids,” he said.

Look for crucial moments when the right behavior or specific action will help prevent a negative outcome, Switzler said. It’s not just about being nice to customers, but more specifically, look them in the eye, smile and greet them within 60 seconds.

Switzler recommends a six-source model for influence, beginning with motivation and finding the best way to influence. “Verbal persuasion” should be the last choice because it has the least influence. It’s common to hear “if it works, use it, if it doesn’t, then increase the volume and frequency,” but that’s just nagging, he said.

“Vicarious persuasion,” helping to find meaning and purpose as opposed to lecturing, could take the form of field trips, stories, or taking a diabetic child to dialysis to see what could happen if they don’t take their insulin shots. However, the best way to influence is through “direct experience” like going to the front line, explains Switzler. But often this is too expensive.

Using a “social-norm message” works because if money is introduced people lose focus on the real message, said Switzler. “Small changes in a social system can lead to big changes in behavior – add a friend, throw in encouragement, build a little accountability, do some coaching, and change what happens,” he said.

Switzler also recommends structural motivation. He says to use incentives last, otherwise there will be inflation and “dis-alignment.”

“Structural ability” employs environment to affect us, said Switzler. For example, the dinner table can reduce so many issues because it provides a forum to talk more and know what’s going on in each other’s lives. Children’s reading and study habits are also shaped by environmental influences like having a quiet place to read at home with a comfortable chair and reading lamp, and no television in the room, he said.

“Influencers succeed where the rest fail because they over-determine success,” said Switzler. Finding vital behaviors and clarifying measurable results is what it takes to tap into the power of influence.

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