Influencing Others

Tuesday, December 5th, 2006

Last week Virginia’s new senator, Jim Webb, accepted an invitation to the White House. He chose to not have his picture taken with the President. And when President Bush sought him out and asked about Webb’s son, who is serving in Iraq, Webb replied that he wished the troops were home. Bush replied, “That’s not what I asked you.”

I posted a blog entry on November 9 about the meeting between the New Senate Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi and the President. Lots of cordiality.

Both approaches may be “right,” given their respective goals.

There is a lesson here for those of us who want to influence others. Intention is critical. If we want to build a strong foundation with the other person, then Pelosi’s approach is a better one. It is much more likely to result in a second meeting and a third. No guarantees, of course, but it opens a door to future conversations.

If, on the other hand, we want to call attention to the differences between us and some other person, then Senator Webb’s approach might work much better. We may choose that approach, if we want to make a statement that builds credibility with our own base or to intimidate.

I have seen senior managers and union leaders do this. Some of these leaders just fly off the handle and speak. That’s dangerous. Others consider their intention first. They know what they want to achieve, and are aware of the potential consequences. And that’s critical. (After all, Webb could have stayed home and avoided the whole thing.)

When people act without clear intention, they often get themselves in trouble. People remember slights and ill-chosen words. On the other hand, legendary baseball manager, Earl Weaver would often go into a tirade against a “bad” call by an umpire. This often resulted in him getting thrown out of the game. According to Jim Palmer, one of his pitchers; that was, usually, all for show. He did it to intimidate the umpires, thinking that they would be less likely to make “bad” calls against his team in the future.

Intention is key. It gives us the opportunity to assess what we do before we do it. And debrief afterwards, so we know what might work well next time.