Trust & Influence


Posted on February 18, 2010 by Blake Leath

"I am sending you out like sheep among wolves.  Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves."

                                                                                                                                  Matthew 10:16


I've been asked to speak to a group in a couple months on a topic entitled Trust & Influence.  I'm excited because these are really fascinating elements -- the sort that undergird virtually all human interactions. 

The amount of literature in these areas is super-duper-bountiful, so let's make some moonshine today by distilling a few key ingredients into a couple potent drops.  These will be my primary talking points for the group in April.

Let's start with Trust.  My perspective on trust is that it is currency, so I tend to think of 10 'coins' -- the Trust Coins if you will.  Now, none of these coins is 'new,' they are, in fact, abundantly found in one form or another throughout nearly all trust literature.  But I like thinking of them in terms of money because, essentially, we're either broke, flush, or break-even in our relationships with others.  As Covey might say, "If you're broke in your relationship with another person, you cannot make any withdrawals."  Conversely, those who love us extend a great deal of grace...a relational 'line of credit,' perhaps.  (As an aside, a word of wisdom: Obey the 'platinum rule' [which is even better than gold] by treating others as they wish to be treated.  The day will come, as it always does, when you will screw up royally and wish you had been nicer, more forgiving or...more gracious.)

In short, if you want to be 'relationally rich,' mind your coins.  Be approachable (open door, receptive), Know your audience (meet others where they are, not where you want them to be), Demonstrate character & integrity (consider your 'brand' and live a life whole and undivided; contrast this with many current politicians), Be competent, Find commonalities with others, Be credible (believable, reliable), Demonstrate empathy (remember, the boomerang often returns), Demonstrate win/win/win intent (you, others, the organization at large), Demonstrate propriety (appropriate professional behavior), and Live consistently (back to the idea of integrity, your pattern of behavior over time is a huge predictor for 'being counted upon' or not). 

Continuing to the notion of Influence, then, the correlations become clear.  Someone who is 'relationally rich' is vastly more likely to be influential.  But influence is an exceedingly deep and broad topic, so let's break it down into 2 bites: Principles & Personhood.

Essentially, influence manifests through two sources -- a half-dozen principles and about nine related aspects of one's personhood.

What does this mean?

Well, take principles, for instance, which are sort of like phenomena.  Where we see Consistency occur (for example, if you behave consistently 'good'), we tend to see influence increase.  Where we see Reciprocation occur (for example, you 'give' because you realize this increases the likelihood that you will 'get'), we tend to see influence increase.  And the same is true for Social Proof (a group of us stares at a building across the street and 'everyone' stops to stare...something must be going on or important!), and Scarcity (the fewer iPads available on Day 1 and the longer the lines will be), and Authority (a police officer's badge 'does' something) and Liking (those who are liked tend to be more influential than those who are disliked).    

But personhood, while conceptually related to these principles, is unique: it is influence that emanates from who you are more than what you do or solely how you behave.  Indeed, it's difficult to uncouple the two, I know, but think of it this way: a principle is something 'going on' while my personhood is 'who I am or how I'm perceived.'  Intertwined, yes...but distinct.  A skeptic might argue, "But isn't WHO I AM...WHAT I DO?"  And the anwer, of course, is complicated.  In short, it is 'yes, mostly...' but 'no, not necessarily.'  Perhaps more on that another day. 

Your 'personal' influence, then, often derives from nine common sources, two of which (Legitimate and Referent) overlap with principles I've described above.  Legitimate influence emanates from the fact that you are, say, the boss!  And as the boss, "What I say goes!"  (But only so far, in fact.  Legitimate influence is actually among the least influential.  After all, when the boss turns his back, what do we do?  That's you've got the idea.Referent influence is similar to Likeability...I am attracted to you, for whatever reasons, and as a result I tend to like you and, therefore, I'm more inclined to be influenced by you.

The dark side to influence is that charlatans, sharks, snake-oil salesmen, con artists and Ponzi schemers exploit these principles and elements of personhood by pursuing just the right sort of pigeons/marks/prey most inclined to be influenced: those in distress, the lonely/isolated, the naive/trusting/gullible, the caregiver, the person who thinks he is smarter than the ploy or -- as Jesus Christ indicated in the scripture above -- those who traipse through life as doves, always trusting and denying the existence of wolves.  (Just because I deny their existence does not mean they don't exist.) 

By way of interest, Mensa members and Nobel Prize Laureates are regarded by con artists as easier prey because their success and confidence give them a false sense of security.  Luminaries reason, "I'm smarter than everyone I know.  No one can dupe me."  And voila, just like that the credit default swapper (aka 'institutional pickpocket') distracts them with feigned awe, ignorance, brilliance or a 'once-in-a-lifetime opportunity' that 'no one else sees,' pivots around their sense of imperviousness and takes them for all they're worth.

The remaining seven elements that shape influence include Affiliation (e.g., my mafia or gang membership gets me a good table on Friday night), Coercion (if you don't do what I say, I'm the type who will beat you about the head and shoulders with this bat), Competition (the pizza only has 8 slices and every piece I eat is one less for you, aka 'zero sum'), Expertise (I'm the doctor and what I say goes), Guilt (for as long as you disobey, you're in my doghouse), Information (I have the data and I lord it over you) and Reward (if you play nice, I'll give you a cookie).  No doubt, these seven elements have a lot to do with principles but, essentially, many people are 'wired' a certain way...nature, nurture, or the combination of both have shaped their personhood like a river stone and we come to 'know them' as being this way.  (There is, of course, flexibility or redemption, but these are unquestionably bigger topics for another month!

Summarizing then, Trust & Influence operate circuitously, one reinforcing the other.

On your journey to make the world a better place, keep a third eye on your own behavior (how you are seen, perceived) and the behaviors of others, lest you over or underestimate them.  Some are wolves in sheep's clothing -- seeking to manipulate and take advantage under guises, ruses, masks and the covers of trust...while others, like Christ himself, are mistaken by many for lunatics or heretics when they come open-handed with nothing but goodwill.