How to influence the most difficult people

Are you pulling your hair out with frustration at someone you work with? Either your boss, peer or team member?

There are two main principles I use to shift the relationship to a much better place

  1. Don't play defence – Use social experiments
  2. Interrupt the pattern of the relationship

Don't Play Defence

What tends to happen in stressful relationships is that you end up being on the back foot. The other person tends to dictate discussion and in essence, the world is happening to you rather than the other way around.  So the key principle is to start taking ownership and control of the relationship. Stop outsourcing control to the other person and blaming your situation on factors you have no influence over.

I tend to go one step further and develop some experiments that allow me to track how effectively I'm shifting the quality of the relationship…which brings me to the next step…

Interrupt the Pattern

Relationships form patterns. It will normally get to the point where you can say something and you can predict quite accurately what the other person's response will be. These patterns develop over time and are reinforced if we don't do something about them.

I remember an executive I was working with a couple of years ago was being bullied by the CEO and CFO in pretty horrible circumstances. They would walk into her office and systematically put her down and abuse her. It had been going on for years and she looked totally worn down. The pattern that was obvious was how she responded…she just took it and never changed it up.

So together we designed a congruent set of steps for her to interrupt the pattern. Congruency is key. She designed a social experiment to interrupt the pattern of behaviour. As the CFO stormed into her office the next morning she first ignored him and then calmly told him to get the hell out of her office. He simply had no idea what had just happened and slowly turned and left.

We have the ability to shift our body language, pitch/tone/speed of voice and the words she used. These are your levers for pattern interrupts. She changed body language, pitch and tone of voice and message. A three pronged approach. And it worked in spades. Over the next few days she took complete ownership of her responses and it dramatically shifted the entire relationship. In fact, quite amazingly I caught up with her a few weeks later and she had a sparkle in her eye…she was back in the drivers seat and loving work again.

Now, this doesn't mean we all start telling people off. This was just a congruent approach for her and I tripled checked with her that it would be ok in reality. What you need to do is something that is right for you and has predictable positive consequences. Try and remember that they probably don't mean to be difficult and create a new behaviour that'll bring out the best in everyone. You might even just take some time to listen and seek really deep understanding of their situation. You might pop into their office and call out the problem.

Most importantly just do something. Its probably costing  you more than you think.

Stay epic