Return to site

How do you Influence Behaviour when you are not there?

How do you Influence Behaviour when you are not there to do it?

“Working with you I’ve discovered a softer, gentler way to lead, now, suddenly, I have to work with this *$%hole and I have to become all hard and tough again… and now I realise how much I don’t like it…”

A friend recently said this. We all recognise it, we achieve an equilibrium in a team, a family, then something happens and we lose it.

How do you communicate so-as-to change the very rules of behaviour and have other people create and enforce the boundaries that keep a culture strong?

The answer lies in an understanding of the three domains of communication, and especially, in how to work in the third of them:

There are three domains of communication, and we normally only recognise two of them.
broken image

Knowing how to operate in the third domain - influencing the conversations that people have with each other when you are not there - is where you'll find the greatest power in communication.

Domain 1: You to Others

B. What you say matters

Words do matter. For example, if you want to get that job, sometimes you just need to know the right technical terminology, no matter your substantive expertise. Similarly, I teach my kids that being polite will get them further than being demanding.
What you say is important and we focus a lot of effort getting the words right, but we all recognise that using the right words is not be the most important thing when it comes to influencing behaviour.

B. How you say it matters

A colleague of mine, Jane Anderson (personal branding expert) speaks about how you show up mattering more than what you say. Our mutual mentor, Matt Church, talks about how your ‘state’ (like your state of mind) matters more than your script.

My personal favourite is Rudolf Steiner (the C20th spiritual philosopher) who wrote that spiritual beings literally inform and inhabit our speech:

“During human conversations, spiritual beings fly about the room on the wings of the words. This is why it is so important that we pay attention to certain subtleties of speech, and do not simply let uncontrolled feelings get the better of us when we speak.”

You don’t have to buy-into the role of spiritual beings to get his point: however you peel the orange, the words you use matter less than than who you are being when you say them!

C. Where you say it

Even more important than who you are being is the context in which those words are being said. For example: "Look Out’!" means something very different here:

broken image

Or here:

broken image

Same words… very different context... VERY different reactions!

In perhaps a more relevant example: if your boss makes a suggestion about your work performance you will consider their comments very differently than if a friends or colleague makes the same statement. This is not because your boss is necessarily more experienced, or even that you respect them more than you do your friend, it's because they are your boss and have a degree of power over you your friend does not.

Context is the most important part of domain of communication called “You to Others”.

Though not always as blatant as the examples I’ve given here, it is always worth being conscious of the context in which your words, or the words of others, are crafted.

We do a lot to manipulate the context into which we speak:

  • we add the letters ‘phd’ to our name so people (legitimately) respect our opinions more;
  • we wear professional clothes to interviews and then change to go to the pub;
  • we make conscious choices about where we have certain conversations (the café or the board-room), at the most basic level;
  • we chose 'set-the-scene' to start a conversations to influence how people listen to us: starting a statement with “I don’t know but…” or “In my 20 years’ experience I’ve learnt that ….”  creates a very different levels of buy-in with the listener.

Domain 2: Others to You

Being responsible for how others communicate with you represents the next level of power in communication – and obviously a key component of leadership, from parenting to CEO’ing.
Many years ago, I complained to a mentor that some volunteers on my staff were being inappropriate and rude with me. I was expecting some kind of coaching about how to manage them better; to create better boundaries etc. Instead, she said: “can you imagine them ever saying something like that to me?”, cocked an eyebrow and waited for an answer.
I thought hard but I couldn’t imagine anyone speaking to her that way: there were some kinds of communication people simply wouldn’t imagine having with her. That left me looking at the kind of person they thought I was… who they thought they were talking to.
There is a lot you can (and we do) do to influence the image people have of us. That image is what provides permission for some kinds of conversation and not others.

In my coaching, this is the domain in which we most often work:

How can you consciously craft who people think they are talking to? This the realm of the role model, leading by example.

If you know how to start being responsible for how you show up for other people, who they are around you starts to change (here’s a video I did about this a few months back). That can be very exciting!

Domain 3: Others to Others

This is the domain we tend to ignore, and the one where we really start to have influence.

It goes beyond being a role-model and starts influencing people's thoughts and behaviours even when you are not there.
Being able to influence in this domain represents real power. This matters everywhere, but obviously never so much as in formal leadership positions.

Being like a PM

The Prime Ministers of Australia and New Zealand have this problem in spades. They both purport to lead a country, and a people, but only one of them, Jacinda Allen is operating consciously in the third domain.

Exhibit A. Within one week of each other, both Scott Morrison and Jacinda Allen had interviews with Waleed Aly to talk about the killing of Muslims in Christchurch.

In his interview, Scott Morrison said he was responsible for ‘the tone’ of the Liberal Party, then proceeded to refuse to rule out preferencing One Nation at the next election. In the domain of' Others to Others' the message is: “do-as-you-please, I have no stand in the matter”.
By contrast, Jacinda Allen told Waleed Aly that she was launching a global campaign to eliminate racism. Whatever the politics, in the realm of ‘Others to Others’ Jacinda is consciously influencing how people talk to each other about the killings, whereas Scott Morrison is relying on being a role model.
The result: Jacinda is being touted as an example of leadership the world-over (especially the US) while no-one is discussing Scott Morrison in those terms.

Lasting influence, at home or at work, lies in operating consciously in the this, the domain of communication.

How does this apply to me? How do I DO this?

It’s like parenting: what kinds of behaviour are acceptable in your family? Where do you draw the line? How do you enforce it?

There are three criteria that must be met to be effective in this domain:

  1. Set the boundaries very clearly
  2. Set it in front of others, not privately
  3. Set the boundary on the behaviour, not the issue that prompted the behaviour.
  4. Do it straight away - while it is happening. The next hour or day is too late and you'll have to wait for another opportunity
In my household we say things like: “we don’t do that in this family” and we address the behaviour directly - not the issue where it arose.
In my friend’s example at the beginning of this article, one of the new guy’s challenges to the status-quo behaviours (i.e. culture) was to laugh inappropriately at a suggestion made by a team member.

In that example, it's important not to say “it’s not a laughing matter, the suggestion she made is valid”. This does not address the behaviour itself (especially if the suggestion was a silly one). A better approach is to say something like:

“we don’t laugh at people’s suggestions in this company/team/organisation”. Done in front of people, this creates a boundary around behaviour that is acceptable or not acceptable that other people can then police when you are not there.

This is one strategy for operating in the domain of ‘Others to Others’ in your workplace.

If you want to ask any questions (and I am conscious I’ve just opened a whole realm of them), please don’t hesitate to send me an email (, or even book a short chat (you can click here to find a time that works).

If you like this/think it's useful, click on the Linkedin button and help me share the love ...

broken image