Entrepreneurs

The ‘Godfather of Influence’ Says This Word Matters Most: How to Significantly Increase Buy-In, Collaboration, and Teamwork

You’ve come up with a new idea. Created a new plan. Developed a new product. You feel really good about it, but still: Before you dive in, you want to know what other people think.

So you ask for opinions.

According to Robert Cialdini, the author of the longtime bestseller (3 million copies and counting) Influence: The Science of Persuasion, asking for an opinion is a terrible idea

“When you ask for someone’s opinion,” Cialdini says, “you get a critic. That person literally takes a half-step back from you psychologically, and goes inside themselves to see where they relative to your idea. It (becomes) them, and everybody else, against your idea.”

Think of it this way: Asking for an opinion is like asking for feedback — and what happens when you ask for feedback?

In 2019, the authors of a Harvard Business School study determined that:

Feedback is often associated with evaluation. This makes it harder to imagine someone’s future and possibly better performance. As a result, feedback givers end up providing less critical and actionable input.

In contrast, when asked to provide advice, people focus less on evaluation and more on possible future actions. Whereas the past is unchangeable, the future is full of possibilities.

So, if you ask someone for advice, they will be more likely to think forward to future opportunities to improve rather than backwards to the things you have done, which you can no longer change.

In short: Ask for feedback — ask for an opinion — and the other person will naturally fall into the devil’s advocate role; asking for an opinion is like asking for a grade.

Ask for advice, though, and the other person naturally thinks about possibilities; it invites collaboration, coaching, and mentoring.

In fact, the researchers found that compared to asking for opinions, asking for advice resulted in respondents providing 34 percent more areas of improvement and 56 percent more ways to improve. 

According to Cialdini, when you ask for advice, the other person:

… takes a half step towards you. They partner with you, inside your idea, to find the best way to structure that idea. So now it’s you, and that person, against everybody else.”

If you change the word ‘opinion’ to ‘advice,’ the research shows you get significantly more favorable responses.

Cialdini is right (not that a guy like him needs my affirmation.) 

Think about the last time someone asked for your opinion. You probably felt a little uncomfortable. A little anxious. You likely took — mentally, if not physically — Cialdini’s half-step back. 

Then think about the last time someone asked you for advice. If nothing else, you immediately felt flattered: Being asked for advice implicitly says you’re smart. Experienced. Skilled. That you have knowledge or skills the other person does not.

That you’re respected. Trusted. Valued. Which likely made you take — mentally if not physically — a half-step forward.

Ask for an opinion and you make other people feel uncomfortable. Ask for advice, and you make other people feel good.

Which makes it much more likely you will learn things that can make your idea or plan even better.

And that you’ll get the buy-in, and help, you need to actually pull it off.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.

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