Posts Tagged 'influence'

The emotional dimensions of change

“The President-elect, it turned out, had a gift for the behavioral arts. He intuitively grasped “loss aversion” (our tendency to give more weight to the threat of losses than to potential gains), and perpetually maximized “nostalgia bias” (our tendency to remember the past as being better than it was). He made frequent subconscious appeals to “cultural tightness” (whereby groups that have experienced threats to their safety tend to desire strong rules and the punishment of deviance), and, perhaps most striking, his approach tapped into what psychologists call “cognitive fluency” (the more easily we can mentally process an idea, such as “Make America great again” or “Lock her up!,” the more we’re prone to retain it). Even his Twitter game was sticky: “Crooked Hillary!” “build the wall.” (…[R]epetition works.)” —Sarah Stillman

Human beings don’t like change, and we are not particularly rational about it.

That means that fear and anger and even hope can trump evidence and logic (pun intended).

Which means we are more easily manipulated by demagogues than we would like to believe.

It also means that if we seek to influence others it is important to understand that reason alone seldom produces lasting change.

If “reason” isn’t sufficient, what works?

1. Research and other forms of evidence provide a rationale for change and are essential to some people before they will consider the change.

2. Well-selected anecdotes (preferably based on personal experience) and testimonials from individuals respected by group members can be very persuasive. So, too, are images and video (think back on photographs and video clips that have changed public perception related to important problems).

3. Remember that the emotional response change evokes in others is not necessarily about us (although it may feel that way) nor about the ideas or practices we promote.

Being forearmed with an awareness of the emotional dimensions of change can increase our resilience during this present moment of heightened national anxiety and fear.

It can also enable us to remain deeply engaged over the many years and decades required to bring about meaningful and lasting change in any important field of endeavor.

Open minds by touching hearts

Dennis

Minds are very hard things to open, and the best way to open the mind is through the heart. —Jonathan Haidt

Leaders extend their influence when they speak to the heart as well as the head.

Human beings are motivated at least as much by their emotions as they are by logic and rationality. While research, data, and other forms of evidence have their place in improvement efforts, by themselves they are insufficient.

Emotions elicited through storytelling, poetry, and the use of imagery can inspire and provide a context for the meaningful use of data and professional literature.

Today I will speak to the heart as well as the head in an upcoming interaction with colleagues, students, or parents.

[This “meditation” is one of 180 (one for every day of the traditional school year) provided in Leadership 180: Daily Meditations on School Leadership, my most recent book, published by Solution Tree.]

Cultivate empathy

Dennis

Social and emotional intelligence are essential attributes of successful teaching and school leadership. And empathy is one of the most important of those skills.

Empathy means that we are able to see the world through the eyes of other people so well that they feel like you “get them.”

We understand what they think, feel, and want even though that may not be what we think, feel, and want.

Many of us resist having empathy with someone because it implies that we agree with them when perhaps we don’t.

Others lack empathy because they are unwilling to do the demanding work of trying to understand the world as others experience it.

When our colleagues feel like we understand their point of view they are more open to our perspective.

That means we are more likely to influence people with whom we have empathy than those with whom we don’t.

Fortunately, empathy can be cultivated. Its development requires intention, an openness to seeing the world through the eyes of others, and persistent practice.

It is a practice well worth the effort because when we give the gift of empathy, we give a gift that can be transformative to us, to others, and to our relationships.

The power of stories to influence

Dennis Sparks

Here are three things I think are true.

1. Human beings like stories and are often profoundly affected by them.

2. When school leaders attempt to influence others they almost always rely on “facts” to change minds.

3. A well-told story or two can be more influential than a tall pile of research reports or an endless procession of PowerPoint slides. (That does not mean, of course, that professional literature cannot be influential when judiciously used.)

Here are some examples of stories that can be influential:

• a story about a student who learned something because of a new teaching method he or she was previously unable to grasp,

• a teacher who had reservations about a new practice, experimented with it in her classroom, and is now enthusiastic about its benefits for students,

• a personal story about learning something important and challenging, a story in which you move from initial resistance to experimentation to mastery, and/or

• a time during which you struggled and failed to learn something and the lessons you drew from the experience.

While personal stories are usually more effective, generic stories can sometimes be useful in making an important point.

Here’s an example provided by Lolly Daskal, the details of which could be tailored to fit many circumstances.

What kinds of stories do you find most effective in influencing students, colleagues, and supervisors?

The power of “improvisational conversations” to influence others

Dennis Sparks

Genuine influence seldom occurs when administrators or teacher leaders direct others to think or act in specific ways.

Nor, contrary to common practice, does it usually occur by building a logical case for change through research and other evidence, although evidence and logic may be part of the influencing process.

Instead, genuine and lasting influence begins by seeking to deeply understand the perspectives and experiences of those we are trying to influence.

Such understanding, and the empathy it creates, requires attentive, sustained, and nonjudgmental listening for the purpose of “seeking first to understand.”

Put another way, influence has at its core improvisational conversations that produce shared understanding and mutual respect, conversations that are as likely to spontaneously occur in hallways as in meeting rooms.

Steve Yastrow, in an interview with Skip Prichard about his book, Ditch the Pitch, emphasizes the value of improvisational conversations that are fresh, meaningful, and relevant.

“The most developed human improvisational skill is conversation,” Yastrow says. “Notice the social conversations you have; they are all created on the spot, in the moment, based on what happens in that particular interaction….”

Yastrow adds: “Everyone reading this interview is knowledgeable and expert about what they sell. Inevitably, this expertise helps us quickly diagnose customer situations and develop solutions. The problem is that we will always devise these solutions before our customers are ready to hear them, and if we tell them to our customers too soon we will overwhelm them.  The idea is to be patient and bring information into your persuasive conversation at a pace your customer can accept.”

Substituting “persuade” for “sell” and “teachers” or “students” for “customers” reveals a valuable insight for administrators and teacher leaders: Leaders too often overwhelm people with their solutions before others in the school community fully understand the problem, yet alone the viable options for its solution.

What has been your experience: Are improvisational conversations effective in influencing others, perhaps even more so that “logical” presentations of “facts” and research?

The challenge of developing your point of view

Dennis Sparks

The most difficult work many professionals do… is getting someone else to agree with their point of view and take action. The second most difficult work professionals do is developing a point of view in the first place. – Seth Godin

In my experience, Seth Godin has it exactly right. It is common sense: Without clarity regarding one’s point of view it is virtually impossible to get others to agree with it. If we don’t know what we think and cannot express it clearly, it is very difficult to influence others.

Many leaders do not know and therefore cannot clearly express what they think about many important educational issues because:

  • they devote more time and attention to developing the clarity of others than they do to their own clarity;
  • developing clarity requires time and attention, both of which are in short supply in the daily lives of leaders, and
  • developing clarity is an intellectually demanding task that is easy to postpone.

It is essential that leaders sufficiently value clarity to make it a daily priority. To that end they:

  • clarify their thinking through writing, often in multiple drafts, before sharing their thinking with others, and
  • further refine their views by explaining them to others with an openness to having their views refined and even altered in those conversations.

What processes do you use to develop your clarity, and in what ways do you interact with others that you find most influential?

Believing is seeing

Dennis Sparks

Most of view ourselves as rational, so it makes sense to believe that we and others make or should make decisions based on logic and evidence.

In reality, though, beliefs and feelings play a large role in our decisions, often without our conscious awareness. Our beliefs and feelings, in fact, often determine the “facts” we see.

So, instead of “seeing is believing,” in many circumstances “believing is seeing.”

That’s why  logical, fact-laden attempts at persuasion are less effective than direct experiences, stories, and images.

That doesn’t mean that research, evidence, and logic have no purpose in faculty meetings and other venues where important professional learning occurs and decisions are made.

But it does mean that while these methods may be necessary to persuade others to commit to a new course of action and to sustain their commitment, they are seldom sufficient.

Can you think of times when decisions (either good ones or not) were more influenced by anecdotes or experiences than by evidence and logic?


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