Much of my life is spent teaching influence. I work with everyone from bank executives to doctors to teachers helping them to make more of an impact with their communication. In doing this, I have had to develop an expertise in the area of influence and persuasion. I have come across many principles of persuasion and secrets of influence. I have devoured books by Robert Cialdini, studied Strategic Negotiation at Harvard Business School, analysed hours and hours of the greatest speeches of all time for rhetorical devices with a view to understanding all I can about how you can influence someone else to believe you, to say yes.
From all of the work that I have done, I have come to the conclusion that when we talk about influence, there is one specific principle that I believe is understated and rarely mentioned. I call it the principle of thoughtfulness.
Thoughtfulness is often associated with romantic interactions or family gifts. ‘You are so thoughtful’ we hear when we have thought about a person before we bought them a present. We also hear it when we do something for a person that we know they will like or that will help them.
Mindfulness is an extremely popular concept today. More and more people are practising staying in the moment and observing, non-judgementally, their own thoughts, feelings and sensations as well as the world outside of them. That is terrific but what about thoughtfulness?
I was eating at a restaurant in Rome the other day and after the meal, the waitress brought us some tasty home cooked biscuits (or cookies if you are American!). That thoughtful action made me return the following evening. I bought a suit on the same trip (it was a work trip) in a shop that I had visited over a year ago. Despite only visiting the shop once before, the man who worked there remembered me and the suit I had bought. I was impressed. It made me feel like I had gone to the right place.
These are just two examples of things that happen to us often. Here is the problem. The opposite also happens. We are treated like every other person on the planet, like we are not important. We feel the sales person would tell us that shirt looks good even if we looked terrible in it because they are not thinking about us. Their mind is on the sale. It is on the short term result.
This is not thoughtfulness. This is forgetfulness. They forget that the business world is rarely about once off transactions and even if it is, word-of-mouth is still hugely important in terms of marketing your business.
In leading a company, waiting for your team to get a big result before you show appreciation to them does not help morale. Ignoring the ‘unimportant’ people in the office will often cost you in the long run. But randomly letting the people who work for you know that you value and appreciate them… that works. It works to motivate them. It massively improves employee engagement. It some cases it can transform the company.
You see, being thoughtful simply means thinking about your actions or lack of them. It means considering the various people who are impacted by you and asking yourself what would be nice for them to experience. Customer experience, whether you are in the service business or whether you are selling a product, it is about making them feel great that they are doing business with you.
Far too often, we wait for an extra charge to show this extra thoughtfulness. When I travel business class, it is so noticeable how important they make you feel compared to economy class. I know you are paying money for it but still… someone in seat 1A is no more important than someone in 59A. Somewhere along the way, we seem to have mixed up things and equated the amount we charge with how thoughtful we are.
Instead, to become a real and long term influencer, the trick is to be just as thoughtful to the economy passenger while making the actual experience for the business class passenger even more valuable. Thoughtfulness is, for the most part, free. It might involve saying the person’s name when they check in, remembering facts about them when you meet them again and, in my case as an author or speaker, smiling when they ask for a photo or autograph.
Thoughtfulness is something I know I have to work on as well. But I also know it will really help me improve my effectiveness with other people. Because it is in alignment with why I do what I do in the first place. It is to make a difference to others. Being thoughtful means remembering that, and figuring out more ways to do it.
I am interested in hearing your views on this – have you ever used thoughtfulness to become a more effective influencer?