When I was in middle school, I suffered a trauma that radically changed the way I saw myself.
I was embarassed publicly in class by a teacher. So to defend myself I cut off all communication with anyone except the friendliest, safest people I could find.
I said safe things. I asked safe questions. I gave safe answers.
After all, risk meant pain. And I sure didn’t want any of that.
One day in seventh grade, one of my teachers decided he would bring me out of my shell.
I don’t remember what subject it was. But I remember Mr. Cox. He was prematurely bald. What hair he had left, he cropped short enough to be a Marine. His apple shaped head was framed by 70’s style horn-rimmed glasses. His voice sounded like a nasal Yogi Bear.
“Frank, I want you to stand up and say, ‘Yes’ as loud as you can.”
I responded to his enthusiastic command with a resounding “No!”
My classmates erupted in laughter.
That could have been the moment when I discovered I could be a successful stand-up comedian. But instead, it served to strengthen my resistance to any further efforts to change me by force.
A Different Approach
I had a coach in middle school named Mr. Thompson. He was about my height. He always had a warm smile and a friendly manner. He noticed that I was struggling in P.E. so he took extra time with me.
Those were some of the greatest times I can recall from that time in my life.
I didn’t become world-class by any stretch. But the next year I had the courage to try out for the basketball team.
I didn’t make the first cut.
If it hadn’t been for Mr. Thompson, I really don’t think I would have tried out at all.
The Common Mistake That Harms Our Influence the Most
Mr. Cox failed because he violated a common need we all have.
Everybody feels the need to be right.
Mr. Cox felt the need to be right when he wanted to fix me.
I felt the need to be right when I stood my ground.
It really doesn’t matter whether what we believe is really right or wrong. You only have to believe something is true to defend it to the death. I felt that protecting myself from hurt was the right thing. Mr. Cox believed bringing me out of my shell was the right thing.
The truth is Mr. Cox actually was right. But his approach was dead wrong.
So I resisted.
Dale Carnegie thought this was so important he included it in his book How to Win Friends and Influence People. Here it is:
If you want to change someone’s mind about something, read the approach that follows …
Try This and Your Influence Will Grow More Than You Ever Dreamed it Could
I would have done anything Mr. Thompson asked me.
And I did.
Why is that so? What was it about his approach that created such loyalty in me?
First, never start by telling someone she’s wrong.
Telling someone she is wrong will be met with the same resistance your car will meet when you drive it into a wall.
When you make it obvious you believe you’re right and the other person is wrong, you turn her off immediately. Nothing you say will matter after that because she won’t be listening to you anymore. She will most likely be counting the seconds until you leave.
Mr. Thompson didn’t have to tell me I was wrong. I knew I was struggling. He just asked me to toss the ball with him. He’d encourage me when I threw it well. He’d compliment me when I caught it. That created an environment where I was the most open to his suggestions.
Second, give the other person a scapegoat.
This may fly in your face if you’re someone who believes we should always take responsibility. While that is good, it’s really not the way most of us think. When you blow it, do you revel in the chance to be blamed for it? Even if you are willing to admit your fault, you probably just want to move on and forget it, don’t you?
So does everyone else.
You don’t necessarily have to blame another person for the problem. It could be that she acted on the information she had at the time. Maybe someone gave her bad instructions. Perhaps she was never taught what she needed to know to succeed.
If you can allow someone to transfer responsibility, you can come alongside and move toward a solution.
Third, frame your point of view in terms she can relate to.
You’ve shown compassion for her plight. You’ve given her a scapegoat to ease her guilt. Now what?
Frame your idea in terms of making the injustice right. Show her how she can leave the painful past behind by trying something new. Give her the chance to participate in the solution. Let her feel she’s responsible for the good that’s about to happen. If she comes to that conclusion herself, she’ll believe it’s true.
Then she’ll never doubt her choice.
And you’ll get your way, won’t you?
Do This Now
Mr. Cox and Mr. Thompson were both right. But only Mr. Thompson had any power to change me.
If you want to grow your influence exponentially, be like Mr. Thompson. Do that and you’ll have more followers than you can count!
What have done to overcome resistance when you try to influence someone? Did it work? Have you known anyone who was so influential that anyone would follow him? Feel free to leave a response in the comments below.