As leaders—of specialty retailers, manufacturers, sports teams and families—we forget sometimes that influencing adult behavior is at the core of what we do. And more than that, it’s a challenging obstacle.
When we step into a room of adults and try to directly change their behavior, the backlash is immediate and negative. Unlike kids, who are programmed to learn and glean lessons from leaders like you, adults are programmed to think for themselves and argue with whatever—and whoever—contradicts their own ideas.
So how do you persuade these freethinkers to think more like you? How do you influence them to be better employees (or students) in order to help you, help the company, and help themselves?
The first step in influencing adult behavior is surprisingly simple: establish context.
Though it’s simple, this is also twofold. Before you begin establishing context for your peers and students, you need to establish context internally.
Ask yourself, “what is my cause?” We talked a few months ago about the importance of defining your vision, and it’s a concept that applies here perfectly. Though we’re not asking you to decide your life plan before you approach this “influencing session,” you should have a clear definition of why you’re speaking to them, and how that fits into the larger context of your vision.
Once you have a clear vision of your intention, it’s possible to share it with others and to translate it into a language they can understand. It’s impossible to influence the behavior of others if you’re not direct in your own intention. When you approach influence with a clear and concise objective, you can package it into digestible bites for your employees or “students.”
So now that you’ve established your own context, you can establish context as a baseline for influence. But this is no easy task.
The immediate reaction of adults is to ask questions. “What are we working on?” “Why are we working on it?” “How long will this take?” “What’s in it for me?” Whether or not they voice this to their boss, these questions are inevitably circulating in the minds of your students. And, to be fair, those are all legitimate questions, questions that you should be able to answer now that you’re clear in your objective. Failing to address these questions before you begin to influence their behavior is fatal to effectively changing their behavior long-term. They won’t want to learn, so they won’t.
Because you have a clear understanding of your objectives and can stand behind them, it’s easy to persuade your students of the merit of your cause. Address each of these questions thoughtfully, individually, and in regards to the context you’ve already established within yourself. Once you’ve addressed each question, they’ll be much more likely to invest in the training because they understand its validity.
Another bonus of answering those concerns and establishing context is that you earn your students’ trust. You show them the respect they deserve by addressing their concerns and substantiating their thoughts and time. Now they’ll offer you that same respect by incorporating the training that follows into their behavior.