Power and Influence Blog

Influence Effectiveness and Confirmation Bias

People believe what they want to believe, and faced with new evidence they will favor information that supports their existing beliefs and ignore disconfirming information.  This psychological phenomenon is not restricted to certain people or groups; it applies to everyone all the time—left or right, liberal or conservative, Republican or Democrat, pro life or pro choice, it doesn’t matter.  I would hesitate to say that we are all “guilty” of confirmation bias.  I don’t think guilt has anything to do with it. 

Confirmation bias is simply a fact of life.  It’s how we think.  It’s how we engage with ideas.  A substantial amount of research has shown that we judge others based on how much their ideas corroborate our beliefs.  We are more likely to consider people experts on global warming, for instance, if what they say supports what we already believe to be true about global warming. 

The Power of Networking

Networking has long been recognized as a powerful tool for business people and professionals.  Knowing more people gives you greater access, facilitates the sharing of information, and makes it easier to influence others for the simple reason that influencing people you know is easier than influencing strangers.  The creators of LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter have built their empires on the presumption that their social networking tools help people build their networks and remain better connected than ever.  Does it follow, then, that social networks, by making connectivity easier, make leaders more powerful?

The answer is no.  Clearly, social networks allow you learn about other people you might never have known of otherwise.  On LinkedIn, you can build awareness of your products or services, join groups of people with similar interests, search for job opportunities, or look for people who might be qualified to fill a position in your company.  And Facebook enables you to find long-lost classmates or share with friends what you liked about a new film, what you saw during your trip to Venice, or what you ate for breakfast.

Want to Be More Influential? Improve Your Social Skills

Dale Carnegie got it right when he said that to win more friends and influence more people you need to improve your interpersonal skills. Twenty years of research on power and influence shows that people with superior social skills are substantially more influential than people with average social skills. These findings make sense when you realize that influence is not something you have; it’s something other people give you. In other words, you can’t be influential with people unless they allow you to be influential with them. So influence is in large part a function of your relationship with other people, and the rule of thumb on influence is that you are likely to be more successful if the people you want to influence know you, like you, respect you, and trust you.

The First Law of Influence

Influence attempts may fail for many legitimate reasons

Some books claim that if you follow their principles you can influence anyone to do anything.  According to these authors, you can get anyone to like you, love you, and find you irresistibly attractive.  Wow!  They assert that you can take control of any situation, win at every competition, and gain the upper hand every time.  One book, written for men wanting to pick up women, boasts that by following its mystery methods you can get beautiful women into bed.  Another boldly proclaims that you can get anyone to say yes in eight minutes or less.  When I read claims like these I am reminded of a saying attributed to Abraham Lincoln:  “You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time.”

Michele Bachmann is Delusional--and She's Not Alone

Michele Bachmann is delusional.  And she’s not alone.  So are Rick Santorum, and Herman Cain, and Newt Gingrich, and just about everyone else who wants to be the Republican candidate for president.  Maybe you have to be delusional to run for president.

In mid-August, Bachmann won the Iowa straw poll.  You’d have thought from her giddy reaction to the win that she was already the Republican candidate.  In the interviews following the straw poll, she was brimming with confidence, her face stretched wide in a toothy smile.  Mind you, winning the Iowa straw poll is not a major accomplishment.  She received 4,823 votes out of nearly 17,000 cast, which gave her 28 percent of the vote (Ron Paul got 27 percent).  And the Iowa straw poll is frightfully awful at predicting the eventual winner.  It’s been right only once the past five times. Nonetheless, Bachmann was strutting around afterwards as though winning the straw poll meant she had already been anointed the Chosen One.

Podcast on Power Sources

I recently did a podcast for the Association of Imaging Executives entitled "Power Sources and Power Drains.  In this podcast I described several of the key sources of power leaders can have--and how those power sources can become power drains.  Knowledge can be a great source of power, for instance, but it can also become a power drain, as happened with two scientists who announced that they had discovered cold fusion and were later proven wrong about their "discovery."  This podcast is based on my book, The Elements of Power, which was published by AMACOM Books in January 2011.  You can listen to the podcast here.

Announcing Elements of Influence

I am pleased to announce that my latest book, Elements of Influence:  The Art of Getting Others to Follow Your Lead, has just been published by AMACOM books.  This book follows—and is a companion to—The Elements of Power, which was published last January.  The power book explores the eleven sources of power people have:  how they build these power sources and how they can lose power.  The influence book explores how people exercise power and use various techniques to lead and influence others.

Influence and Leadership

There can be no leadership without influence, because influencing is how leaders lead. In their classic book on leadership, Leaders:  Strategies for Taking Charge, Warren Bennis and Burt Nanus echo this point: "There is a profound difference between management and leadership," they wrote, "and both are important. 'To manage' means 'to bring about, to accomplish, to have charge of or responsibility for, to conduct.' 'Leading' is 'influencing, guiding in direction, course, action, opinion.'" They add that "an essential factor in leadership is the capacity to influence." 

A Tiger Loses His Mojo

Eldrick Tont “Tiger” Woods is a prime example of someone who had built an extraordinary amount of power based on his skill and accomplishments—and then lost much of it overnight when the world learned of a critical character flaw.  Born in 1975 in Cypress, California, he was a child prodigy in golf, which he began playing at age two.  In 1978, he appeared on The Mike Douglas Show, putting against comedian Bob Hope.  At three, he shot a 48 for nine holes at the Navy Golf Club in Cypress, and at age five he appeared on an ABC television program (That’s Incredible) and was featured in Golf Digest.  When he was just six years old, he shot his first birdie.  At eight, he won the Junior World Golf Championship in the ages 9-10 division, an event he won five more times, including four consecutive wins from 1988 to 1991.  At fifteen, he won the U.S. Junior Amateur Championship and was Golf Digest’s Player of the Year.  Subsequently, he was named Golf World Player of the Year multiple times, Golf World Man of the Year, Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year, and Associated Press’ Male Athlete of the Year—all before he turned twenty-two.

What the Egyptian Revolution Teaches Us about Power and Influence

Like most people around the world, I have been fascinated during the past 15 days by the largely peaceful revolution that brought down a 30-year-old dictatorship in Egypt.  The pictures of thousands of protestors chanting in Midan Tahrir (Liberation Square) were mesmerizing, as was their collective show of defiance when confronted by government-directed thugs days ago.  Unlike Dick Cheney, who self-righteously declared that Mubarak is our ally and we should stick by him, I was among the millions of Americans who cheered for the protestors and prayed that they would prevail. 

By Terry R. Bacon
Naked in the Crystal Palace: CEO Tony Hayward's Fall from Grace

Since 2004, the rate of CEO turnover has averaged around fifteen percent, which means that on an annual basis about one in six CEOs will retire, become redundant due to a merger or acquisition, or be forced out. Fortunately, few of these departing CEOs will experience as public or dramatic a fall from grace as BP’s Tony Hayward, the beleaguered chief executive whose spectacular loss of power was witnessed by television audiences globally and cheered by millions of people whose lives were affected by BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

The President and the Power Drain

I argued in chapter 2 of The Elements of Power that Barack Obama won the 2008 presidential election largely on the strength of his gifts as a speaker. Obviously, he had other sources of personal power: knowledge (he's bright, well educated, and spoke knowledgably about the issues), attraction (he's a nice-looking man with a likable family), and character (despite ludicrous claims that he's a Muslim and assertions that he wasn't born in America, no substantive flaws in his character became evident). But his greatest source of power during the campaign was his expressiveness. An eloquent speaker, he delivered passionate messages about the need for change to increasingly galvanized audiences who were hungry for change.

Cultural Differences in Appealing to Authority
The Morality of Power

Does might make right, as the old saying goes?  Or are people in power largely governed by the better angels of their nature?  It would be difficult to argue that power is not immoral if you consider, in the same breath, the Turkish genocide of Armenians during and just after World War I; the genocide of six million Jews during World War II as part of the Nazi’s final solution; the millions of Russians and Chinese killed by Stalin and Mao, respectively, as they consolidated power; the killing fields in Cambodia; the mass killing of Muslims in Bosnia; the genocide of the Tutsis by the Hutus in Rwanda; or the slaughter of innocents in Darfur.  And these atrocities occurred just in the past one hundred years of human history. 

The Magnitude of Power and Its Relational Nature

I find it helpful to think of power as a battery.  Depending on how they are constructed, batteries contain any number of chemical cells, which are their sources of power.  Those cells convert chemical energy into potential electrical energy as measured in volts.  The higher the voltage of a battery, the more electromotive force it is capable of delivering; and the greater the force, the more work the battery is capable of doing.  A 100-volt battery can do much more work than a 1-volt battery, and a 1,000-volt battery can do much more work than a 100-volt battery.   This is a useful metaphor for how power works in people.  Like the cells in a battery, we have a number of sources of power.  The more power we have, the more work (leadership or influence) we are capable of doing.

How to contact me

Email: terry@terryrbacon.com
Websites: www.terryrbacon.com, www.theelementsofpower.com

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