“Influencer”, a must-read book

Posted by Doc
May 01 2009

I’m not finished with it yet, and yet I can tell you unreservedly that you must read Influencer by the authors of Crucial Conversations and Crucial Confrontations.

While the first two books deal with holding conversations and dealing with issues, this third book addresses the challenges that are near and dear to my heart: how you get people to change their behavior. Thanks to my colleague Jason Yip, I started on this book, and haven’t been able to put it down (well, I do stop for things like work 😉 ).

I wanted to share some of this with you, because it relates so nicely to what I’ve been thinking and writing about for a while now.

It turns out the all influence geniuses focus on behaviors. They’re inflexible on this point. They don’t develop an influence strategy until they’ve carefully identified the specific behaviors they want to change. They start by asking: In order to improve our existing situation, what must people actually do?

I love this. It’s not about how they feel or about their motivation. First and foremost, it’s about how they behave.

This is true whether I’m dealing with my family, my co-workers, or a client. Whether I want them to change their behavior, or I just want to understand the situation, I start with their behavior.

One of the vital behaviors consists of the use of praise versus the use of punishment. Top performers reward positive performance far more frequently than their counterparts. Bottom performers quickly become discouraged and mutter things such as, “Didn’t I just teach you that two minutes ago?” The best consistently reinforce even moderately good performance,…

This goes as far back, for me, as Ken Blanchard’s original One-Minute Manager series of books. It ties into how we relate to and teach our children. Every little accomplishment, every move in the right direction, and they get tremendous reinforcement. Then, as the authors say, we start to grow up and everyone gets stingy with their praise as if it’s only to be delivered when we do something exceptional.

If you know anything about training dogs (no, I’m not equating co-workers and family to dogs, just learning where I can), you know that you do the same thing – reward them if they make a move in the right direction, and keep encouraging them until they get it.

It’s so easy to say “well done” or “good job” or even just “thanks”. These things provide reward way out of proportion to their cost.

And it’s so easy to do these things as a facilitator, which many folks don’t get. It’s not about being insincere or ingenuous. It’s about rewarding and encouraging the behaviors we want to develop, and finding ways to reduce or eliminate the behaviors we don’t want.

Read this book. If you are a parent, manager, facilitator, professional, consultant, teacher,… okay, if you’re a human being, read this book.

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3 Responses

  1. Jean Tabaka says:


    I really value the “Crucial Conversations” book. I have read it once but realized I was skimming more than absorbing. So now I am going back through it with more intent. Indeed, in these situations, I notice that the authors emphasize “just start with some new behaviors”, try them on, find out which ones are harder than other ones, then work on those. They are the crux of your fear of or failure in crucial conversations. Or at least this is how I am reading the book.

    I suspect we do the same thing when coaching teams in the Agile adoption world. “Try these new behaviors. In fact do them for a while, and I promise you that we will keep checking in on what is challenging or puzzling and adapt from there.” The emotions then seem to evidence themselves in an effective fashion, such as in high-trust retrospectives.

    Thanks for sharing.

    • Doc says:

      Add to all of that providing frequent, real-time encouragement. Too many coaches think that giving feedback at retrospectives or some other periodic event is sufficient. It isn’t. When I see a pair doing well together, I should tell them. When I hear a design discussion going on, I should recognize them. When they smell a smell, stop and refactor, get their tests done first… these all deserve notice as and when they happen.

      Oh – and everyone should read your book, too, Jean. 😉

  2. Paul Rayner says:

    Great post. Looks like I have another book to read!

    I have noticed this approach at my son’s charter school, where they adhere to what they call a “Positive Discipline” approach (from their student manual at http://is.gd/w0xU – p. 3):

    “Littleton Prep staff use a positive discipline approach to student behavior. It is an approach that teaches and encourages students to enjoy doing the right thing. At Littleton Prep, the positive discipline program is designed to teach and encourage students to acquire social skills and to cooperate with peers, staff, and others in the community. The program emphasizes teaching students
    what is expected and recognizing them for effort and achievement.”

    I have seen this in action in the classroom and it is tremendously effective. They do really focus most of their attention on recognizing and rewarding the positive behavior, and it works. It’s not Skinner’s behaviourism, but rather a recognition that behavior is a tangible manifestation of beliefs and values and rewarding good behavior can work inward to affect change to one’s beliefs and values. Plus, healing words – as you say – can be a tremendous motivator and encourager for people. We can all use positive recognition of a job well done.

    Also, I like the emphasis on thinking about the behavioral goal, and then working backwards from there to the strategy to accomplish that goal. I was discussing this with a coworker yesterday in the context of getting a team to adopt TDD, since TDD is typically a huge change in the approach one takes to writing code (a major change in coding behavior) and getting a dev to make the change can be a tremendous challenge.

    Anyway, I know I need to take all this more to heart in my coaching and interaction with my team (and life in general). Thanks for sharing your thoughts on the book.


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