Actually, It’s all about them

Two weeks ago I blogged that influencing is not about you, it’s about them. And last week I gave another example and a link to the Persuasion Pyramid, my favourite tool for understanding those you wish to influence. Today I want to highlight another favourite tool that is excellent for answering the question, “If it is all about them, what are they thinking and feeling right now?” That is, getting in a position to empathise with their situation. Why is it a good idea to empathise when influencing? Here is an example, drawn from my book, Winning Conversations: How to turn red tape into blue ribbon.

I was on a business trip and at breakfast I noticed a group of female golfers sitting near me. They seemed like nice people. When I tried to order another coffee I was told that wasn’t possible because the hotel had lost power. On the way out I stopped at reception to ask the best way back to my room, given the lifts were not working. Two of the golfers from breakfast were a few paces behind me. One said to the other, just loud enough for me to hear, “Use the stairs, you dufus! Must be an accountant.”

What the woman didn’t know was that I have had plenty of experience of hotel and office building fire stairs. The dead ends and rabbit warrens that often lead you back to the exit. I simply wanted to check the quickest route to my room.

Yes, I admit I felt momentarily angry, and no, I didn’t say anything. I simply ignored her. I have long since come to realise that if someone has what seems like an unreasonable problem with you, your best course is to be empathetic towards them, because the problem is theirs. By understanding their problem you are able to address it and build influence over someone who might otherwise have been a blocker or detractor.

The Persuasion Pyramid is a good first step in understanding a person. But the better you understand them and the more you can empathise with them, the greater your ability to influence them. The best tool I have discovered for building empathy is Dave Gray’s aptly named Empathy Map (download a copy here).