I was given the book Influence by a coworker to help me work on leadership skills. She warned me that the book bordered on the social engineering side of influence. Boy, was that correct! The book goes into our natural instincts and reactions to others’ behavior and how those patterns can be leveraged. One thing I thought was interesting and underscored the real-life applications of these theories were the studies referenced in the book. Experiments and quantitative data collection proved these theories out empirically.

I had anticipated using the ideas from this book in an “offensive” capacity, but after reading the first couple of chapters, I feel they might be better suited for me personally on the “defensive” front. I am definitely a pragmatist in many respects. My courses of study and hobbies all lean towards the practical side: computer science in college, certifications after graduation, running/hiking/biking, ham radio, and recently Taekwondo. In college, my honors friends would joke with me about being a Philistine since many of them were English and history majors and appreciated historical philosophy in a way I could not.

One area of life where this is not true is in my interpersonal interaction. I lean pretty far towards the idealist side in personal relationships. I don’t know if this correlates to my being an optimist, but I want to assume the best about people. Even though the myth of meritocracy states that meritocracy isn’t broadly applicable in societal movements, my goal is to keep work decision-making discussions as close to the actual issues and tradeoffs as I can. Deep down, I want to avoid veering off into what I would consider side-channel attacks of the more manipulative psychological influence tactics. In many ways I am “an old soul”, but I think this might be an area where I have a sliver of an idealistic young person.

Knowledge and judicious use of these strategies is a good thing. For example, one natural human pattern is reciprocation. I asked for some help with a Maven dependency resolution issue on Wednesday and was happy to pair with that same person when on Friday he had a Python Oracle database driver issue in a Lambda function. That reciprocation is just good teamwork. Where I might be aware of techniques and choose not to use them is giving out unrequested and unwanted small favors to foster a sense of indebtedness that will later be cashed in as a large return favor. People will naturally want to reciprocate with the same or greater proportions in order to clear the account with the other person. This fact can be used to selfishly extract favors from others. Awareness of the repertoire of techniques allows you to play better defense and not be taken in by them.

So, the big question… As I am trying to ethically improve my influence as a whole, is there another word that captures the essence of my focus area? Persuasion?

  • Influence over Persuasion: Influence is more broad. Solely persuasion without motivation does not prompt action; no goals are actually accomplished.
  • Persuasion over Influence: Persuasion (at least my connotations) leans into the actual issues being discussed in a setting where both parties are evaluating value judgments regarding a decision and coming to a consensus. It is not as affected by external factors like power differential.

In my next post, I will dive into the contents of the first half of this book. These include contrast, reciprocation, and commitment to consistency.