Need to Influence? Find Common Ground.
“Please find someone in the room who you suspect has had a different life than you have had.” Then people shyly make eye contact with each other and go off to their separate corners to share. When they return to the group to debrief the exercise, most are surprised.
In his groundbreaking book, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, Robert Cialdini asserts that if we like someone, we are more likely to be influenced by them. And who do we tend to like the most? People like us.
When I read this, my mind immediately went to the “R” of the Ariel Group Presence Model – Reaching Out. In our Leadership Presence programs, we build the skill of Reaching Out (relationship building, developing trust, listening with empathy) through an exercise called The River of Life.
In this exercise, we ask each participant to draw their life story as a timeline, including the people, places and events that have influenced them along the way. Once that cataloging is complete, we invite participants to pair up and share their life stories. We say, “Please find someone in the room who you suspect has had a different life than you have had.”
Then people shyly make eye contact with each other and go off to their separate corners to share. When they return to the group to debrief the exercise, most are surprised:
“We have the same life,” one participant says.
“Separated at birth,” says another.
“We have more in common than we think we do,” says a third.
We’ve seen miraculous things happen around this exercise: two consultants who grew up in the same neighborhood at the same time but never knew each other; two managers gain an instant understanding of each others’ personal styles and preferences and then quickly solve a thorny business problem; colleagues who are angry with each other watch their rift dissolve after listening carefully to each others’ struggles.
What does this have to do with influence? Assuming Cialdini is right, when we discover our commonalities we develop the power to collaborate and co-influence.
Here are some ways to build relationship with a colleague, manager or direct report during the transactional moments of your work day:
Weave tidbits about yourself into every day conversations. The more clues you offer, the more opportunities there are for someone else to identify with you.
What don’t you know about a colleague? What would you like to know? Start with, “Where did you grow up?” and go from there.
Look for common ground.
Once you know each other a bit better, reflect on what you share.
Come back to those commonalities. I have a C-level colleague who grew up in Rhode Island, just like me. It’s a quirky place and not many people leave there, so we often bond over how we both escaped “Little Rhody.”
Now I’m curious…what’s the most surprising commonality you’ve discovered with one of your colleagues? Did it influence your working relationship?