How to Influence Difficult People (Even If You’re Not in Charge)

Ever wished people would just do what you needed them to?

Maybe you have a loud co-worker who just can’t seem to keep their volume down in the office. If they’d just talk at a normal level, everyone could finally focus.

Maybe you have other co-workers who repeatedly miss deadlines — and consequently delay entire projects.

What if you could change their behaviour?

How would you influence someone to do something they don’t want to do?

Influencing a Reluctant Audience

Teenagers: a resistant, rebellious audience — particularly when asked to do something they don’t want to do. Few people are harder to influence than teenagers. But one of the most effective influence strategies I saw involved teenagers and a high school janitor. He started noticing lipstick blots on the mirrors every day as he cleaned the bathrooms — which added a layer of difficulty to his job.

The girls put their lipstick on thick. Then, they’d kiss the mirror to blot it off. Consequently, he dealt with the headache of trying to get it off each afternoon. And since the water he used to clean the mirrors wasn’t cutting it, he spent extra time scrubbing it clean. By the time he the mirrors were clean, he had little time left for his other duties.

He talked to the principal, “You’ve got to do something about this! Can you talk to these girls? Can you do anything to help?”

“No problem. I’ll take care of it,” said the principal.

Later that day, the principal made an announcement on the loudspeaker, “Girls, we noticed a problem in the bathrooms. Please do NOT blot your lipstick on the mirrors.”

Do you think it stopped?

Of course not! In fact, even more girls did it. The people who’d never done it before thought, “That’s clever! I’m going to try that too!” So, more girls started kissing the mirrors, causing the janitor even more frustration.

He decided to take matters into his own hands. He rounded up the ten most popular girls and asked them to come see what he faced every day. He told them, “Look at these mirrors! Do you see all the lipstick prints on here?”

The girls gazed down and snickered, knowing they were the cause of his problem.

“I need you to help make this stop. I want you to tell your friends to stop doing this. I want you to see what I have to do to get this off every day.”

Then, he took the squeegee, dipped it in the toilet, swished the squeegee around in the toilet water, took it back to the mirror, and scrubbed it clean.

NOBODY kissed that mirror after that moment!

Why was his influence so effective? He connected their bad behaviour to natural consequences they weren’t aware of. Then, he used peer pressure to get the word out. The message spread like wildfire and the behaviour stopped immediately.

What Would You Do With More Influence?

A major factor in influence is connecting behaviours to consequences. These consequences don’t have to be manufactured or enforced by a heavy-handed superior — often we just need to be aware of the consequences that are already happening.

If that janitor can be so effective with rebellious teenagers, what could you do with more influence?

What changes would you make in your own life if you were aware of the consequences already in motion? Maybe you’d eat better and lose some weight? Maybe you’d be able to use natural consequences to be more influential with your own teenagers?

What impact could you have in the workplace? Perhaps you could get the loud talker in the cube next to you to quiet down. Perhaps you could get your team to hit their deadlines and meet their budget.

What would you do if you had more influence in your community? Maybe you could finally have a neighbourhood meeting that doesn’t devolve into a shouting match.

Influence is a skill — and it isn’t reserved for the heads of our organisations alone. The janitor impacted the girls much more than the principal. How? He used one skill in his toolbox for influence — he made his audience aware of the natural consequences of their behaviour.

We can ALL be more effective influencers. With the skills to influence, anyone can make a big difference — for themselves and for others.

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