How to influence decisions

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How to influence decisions
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Once I was head of research for a political party, and it nearly cost me all my friendships (OK – both of them): I always had data to back up my opinions. I quickly discovered that people prefer opinions to facts. Much voting is tribal. Each political tribe uses facts like drunks use lamp posts: for support, not illumination. Managers are the same.

In the world of management, the battle of facts versus beliefs matters. If you understand how bosses and colleagues really make decisions, you are much better able to influence them. Fortunately, the work of Daniel Kahneman (Nobel Prize 2002) on decision making heuristics shows what really goes on.

Simplifying the academic theory, here is what managers need to know about how colleagues make decisions:

  • Anchoring

    Do more or less than 40% of the states in the UN come from Africa? The question is anchored around 40% and most people will guess close to that number. Moral for managers: strike early. Before the budget process starts, set expectations very low, before the planners put in some crazy planning assumption. Anchor the debate on your terms.

  • Loss aversion

    Losses are not just economic and rational. More important for managers, they are emotional: “will I look stupid if I agree to this?” Reversing a stated position loses face. So keep disagreements private while giving public fanfares even to partial agreements.

  • Social proof

    if Tiger Woods and Wayne Rooney use the kit, maybe I can improve by using the same kit. Some hope. But endorsement works. So get the backing of some power brokers for your idea, and even the flimsiest case can succeed.

  • Framing

    Do you prefer savings and investment or cuts and spending? Easy choice, except that they are the same thing. Frame the discussion to suit your needs. Language counts, even if you are not an NLP fanatic.

  • Repetition

    All dictators and advertisers know this. Keep hammering the same message home. Repetition works. Repetition works. Repetition works. Repetition works….

  • Emotional credibility

    If crime statistics get worse, so what? If my neighbour is burgled, crime is getting to be a serious problem. When I get mugged, then crime has spiralled out of control into a major epidemic. We believe what we hear and see, not what we read. Do not rely on PowerPoint. Make your point personally and personal: make it relevant to the person you want to influence.

If you thought decision making was rational, think again. You have to work the political and emotional aspects of decision making as well. Understanding decision making heuristics gives some clues as to how you can influence decisions in your favour.


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