Influence others to motivate them to do the things that matter.

My hands clammy, my shirt beginning to soak with perspiration in the air-conditioned room. I walked to the front of the meeting room past my muttering colleagues and got blinded momentarily by the projector; I faced my audience. Their faces raptly attentive as they waited for the first words to come.

This was my most important performance ever, and I was about to go down in flames…

I noticed my boss as he glanced at his watch. A phone buzzed in silent mode on the table and all eyes were drawn toward it. Someone muttered an apology as he picked up the errant phone and read the message.

I had spent weeks preparing for this meeting. We were about to introduce a new computer system across the entire business and everyone in the room would be affected. The only problem was that nobody wanted the new system. If only they would realise how beneficial it was going to be…

I stumbled through my slides, gave them all the facts in laborious detail and outlined the plan.

Still, nobody wanted the new system.

I had failed to influence my colleagues to support the project.

So why had my long-prepared presentation failed to influence and achieve the intended result?

When we link the required resources to the goal through personal benefit – the fruit is motivation to change. That is, we influence the person to change.


The answer lies in the Triangle of Influence

We are influenced EMOTIONALLY in our critter brain first. This has a lot to do with brain chemistry. Aristotle called this “Pathos”.

Then we are influenced RATIONALLY in our executive brain which essentially relies on maths. Aristotle referred to this as “Logos”.

When we are influenced to do something, we connect three things inside the brain:

  1. The goal (Command Intent) we will achieve
  2. The resources (Talents, Skills, Time and Money) achieving the goal costs, and
  3. The personal benefits (fulfilling Purpose and Values) that we get out of achieving the goal.

The Critter Brain and The Chemistry of Motivation and Influence

The Chemistry of Influence in the Critter brain

Any perception of cost in using my talents, my skills, my money or my time triggers a fear response. I might get protective (fight it), pretend I didn't hear it (freeze) or stop hearing anything else (flee). In large part it triggers the production of norepiphrene (better known as adrenaline). This is not good news for motivation.

But that doesn't mean that you can or should avoid being open about the cost of doing something. If you don't tell me, it's highly probable that my emotional memory will tag on a previous memory of cost. A memory that might be worse than this new situation.

Talk of achieving goals gets me into achievement mode, largely serotonin, which is associated with pride. Also, some testosterone which can help me feel determined and stronger.

When I perceive I am getting a real benefit that is valuable to me – well that's a happy thing and I get a dopamine buzz.

Too much cost, I've probably shut down, anyway. Too little achievement, and I'm a little anxious.

Too little genuine, personal benefit – well, sure I'd like it but isn't the cost a little high?

Now, while the chemistry is doing its work on my mood and feelings towards your suggestion, my executive brain wants to jump in with a little logic.

The Executive Brain and the Chemistry of Motivation and Influence

The Math of influence in the executive brain

When I believe that I gain more value in the benefit than the cost, then I will be motivated to act on achieving the goal.

But if we believe that the cost outweighs the benefit, we will not be motivated to act.

Or at least we like to think that the executive brain is in charge.

Neuroscience research is pointing us to understand that the critter brain (our emotional centre) has already made the decision and our executive brain merely gets to rubber stamp its choice.

If I feel strongly in favour of doing something, then I am likely to find reasons for agreeing with myself. I am biased. So are you by the way.

It is possible to overturn your emotional decisions, but you need to be mindful and strong willed. We call it being objective, or being “reasonable”.

When influencing someone, it's quickest and best to get the chemistry right first (talk to the critter brain) the math will follow.

You ever wonder why advertising is so powerful? Effective advertising speaks to the critter brain first!

Why do (your preferred) politicians win you over? They talk to your critter brain first!


Everyone has influence!

We all have the power to affect another person. The very definition of influence. But do you have the necessary power to affect the people you need to influence?

When I was presenting to my colleagues in an attempt to influence them to support my project I neglected a few critical points. In particular:

Not surprising then that they weren't motivated to action.

I take heart that I'm not alone in such an endeavour. How many new projects have you witness fail in your working lifetime?

People are influenced to act (or change) when they feel that it is the right choice to make, and then they justify it with reason and logic.

It is critical that we realise that people are influenced when THEY make the link.

Influence to act = PERSONAL Benefits > PERSONAL costs

Remembering that they too are biased, and their bias is not the same as yours.

Surely it cannot be this simple?

Well, it can. But importantly, simple does not mean easy.

If we wish to influence another person to undertake a particular action, to be certain that we motivate them to action, we need to know:

And, bear in mind, that even if we are to know this today, by tomorrow these may have changed.

So we apply our own perception of what WE think are the benefits and costs for the other person. The greater our empathy, the more likely we are to understand the other person well enough to influence them easily.

Take a child's perspective…

As you approach the checkout in the supermarket, little Johnny grabs a fistful of chocolate. (Goal = eat chocolate, Benefits = pleasure, sugar buzz, flavour, Cost = zero)

As a parent, you know that the cost is considerably higher, certainly in terms of cash, but also there are future long-term implications such as weight gain, a sense of entitlement that pleasure doesn’t have to be paid for.

As a parent, you want to take the chocolate back off Johnny. At which point, little Johnny increases the cost to the parent of doing so. Crying, screaming, and being generally badly behaved. Why? Because such behaviour has worked in the past.

The cost to the parent could be that feeling of shame. We've all felt the eyes of those behind us in the queue. We can feel their disapproval of our parenting. There's those who think we should simply give in and get out of their way and those who think you are a terrible parent for having such an ill-disciplined child.

Who influences whom? Well, that depends on the perception of the value of each of the associated costs. Either way, children learn the secret power they possess and which buttons to press to get what they want.

As we grow older and wiser, most of us lose this natural ability to get our own way. It is no longer seemly to ‘lose one's temper' even if it still works.

A child's toolkit is limited and plays on your emotions.

Take a politician's perspective…

Whilst some notable politicians appear to assume a child's perspective, truly successful politicians are very adept at influencing people emotionally and rationally (please do note that successful does not necessarily mean “good” and I am not endorsing any party or approach.) Particularly in recent years where the most successful have learned from advertising, TV and social media.

Remember to look beyond the politics itself here and focus on the tools and techniques the successful ones use effectively.

In short, politicians and advertisers alike most often use

four universal appeals:

  1. They encourage your dreams and/or
  2. They allay your fears and/or
  3. They justify your failings, and/or
  4. They help you throw rocks at a (common) enemy.

In other words, they promise to help you get what you want, promise it won't hurt you or cost you more than you can afford, whilst letting you know that it's not your fault that you previously chose their competitor because everyone else got fooled too and they'll often create a new enemy for everyone to focus their dislike toward and thus generate a sense of unity (or social proof that you are not alone).

For advertisers think cars, shampoo, new financial products and dental plaque respectively.

These are emotional persuaders!

Who cares about numbers, logic or proof once you've been emotionally hijacked?

The principles of influence though, remain the same.

The art and neuroscience of how you influence to motivate someone to do something hasn't changed in more than 2,000 years since the days of Aristotle.

If I ask you to do something, you'll want to know the cost for you and what's in it for you that is, you will rationalise a choice. Only when the benefits for you outweigh your costs will you be motivated to act. Unless I've hit you hard enough with an emotional persuader. When you influence (more easily) with emotional appeals first, the logical argument might not even matter.

However, I can also influence you by manipulating your perception, or I could force or coerce you to do something. When does influence cross the line? Are the four universal appeals a legitimate tool of influence and motivation or have we crossed the line into manipulation?

Your action step

You will want to motivate someone today or tomorrow. Perhaps your kids to study, your partner to help out, your staff to take on more responsibility. Consider what is the most powerful emotional appeal you can make to them: encouraging their dreams, allaying their fears, justifying their failures or do you need to identify a common enemy? Perhaps you've tried them all and nothing works, can you increase the cost of non-compliance and learn from your toddler self?

Get a notebook and write it down now, alongside their name.

Add any and all your logical support to the note.

Now go motivate them to do the things that matter.

And do let me know how well you get on.

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