48 Laws of Power

CoolTimeLife Podcast: How To Make More Things Go Your Way

This blog comprises show notes for my CoolTimeLife podcast entitled How To Make More Things Go Your Way. We’ll talk about Michelangelo, Dilbert, jiu-jitsu and Steve Jobs, and your personal credit rating. All of these are  , influence, Steve Jobs. All of these will help describe how you can set the stage for a far more satisfying turn of events in your life. There’s no magic involved. Not even any force. But it is surprisingly easy and consistent.

How can you make more things go your way? We would all like that, but why does it seem so hard? The answer is twofold. First, you have to know how to set the stage. Second, the other people involved – and there are always other people involved – have to want to play along. In other words, they have to want to do what you want them to do. I’m not playing word games here, the issue is simply one of vision paired with influence. Influence is the art of getting people to change their actions through something far more subtle than brute force. Anyone can do it, but it does require a cool mind. To illustrate this, I have two brief stories for you. The first happens back in Renaissance Italy:

Florence, Italy, 1502. An enormous block of marble stood in the yard of the church of Santa Maria del Fiore. It had once been a magnificent piece of raw stone, but an unskilled sculptor had mistakenly bored a hole through it where there should have been a figure’s legs, mutilating it. Piero Soderini, Florence’s mayor, had contemplated trying to save the block by commissioning Leonardo da Vinci to work on it, or some other master, but had given up, since everyone agreed that the stone had been ruined. So, despite the money that had been wasted on it, it gathered dust in the dark halls of the church.

This was where things stood until some Florentine friends of the great Michelangelo decided to write to the artist, then living in Rome. He alone, they said, could do something with the marble, which was still magnificent material.

The great Michelangelo

Michelangelo traveled to Florence, examined the stone, and came to the conclusion that he could in fact carve a fine figure from it, by adapting the pose to the way the rock had been mutilated. Soderini argued this was a waste of time – nobody could salvage such a disaster – but finally he agreed to let the artist work on it. Michelangelo decided he would depict a young David, sling in hand.

Weeks later, as Michelangelo was putting the final touches on the statue, Soderini entered the studio. Fancying himself a bit of a connoisseur, he studied the huge work, and told Michelangelo that while he thought it was magnificent, the nose was too big.

Michelangelo realized Soderini was standing in a place right under the giant figure and did not have the proper perspective. Without a word, he gestured for Soderini to follow him up the scaffold. Reaching the face area, he picked up his chisel, as well as a bit of marble dust that lay on the planks. With Soderini just a few feet below him on the scaffold, Michelangelo started to tap gently with the chisel, letting the bits of dust he had gathered in his hand to fall little by little. He actually did nothing to change the nose, but gave every appearance of working on it. After a few minutes of this charade he called aside: “Look at it now.”

“I like it better,” replied Soderini, “you’ve made it come alive.”

In this story, Michelangelo sought to change the mind of his client not through confrontation, but by using his understanding of the Mayor’s ego to arrive at a satisfactory meeting of priorities. That’s influence.

This story, by the way is from my favourite book of all time, From The 48 Laws of Power, by Robert Greene, p. 97-98, one of the best books ever written on the subject of human relationships.

It is so much easier to make things happen by pulling people along in the direction they want to go. It’s kind of like the martial art of Jiu Jitsu – in which defence and ultimate victory are attained not by trying to his someone with brute force, but by moving with the direction of the opponents blow, and actually using his own energy to destabilize him. It’s very elegant, to go with the momentum of the flow rather than place yourself as a solid target.

Dilbert’s Murphy Chair

So here’s a second story, and this is one that often gets a laugh during my speeches.  And for this one, I owe thanks to Scott Adams, the cartoonist behind Dilbert, as well as the office furnishings company IDEO. A few years back, IDEO, and Adams teamed up to design the “ultimate cubicle – the perfect workspace.

Of the many features available in this design, one of the most intriguing was the “Murphy chair.” Its premise was simple. Rather than having a second chair in the work area of the cubicle, the Murphy chair was actually a panel that would fold down from the cubicle wall to create a seating space, in much the same way a Murphy bed folds out of a wall to create a bedroom. From an influence perspective, the most fascinating feature of the Murphy chair was that it was wired to the telephone in the cubicle, so that a few minutes after the seat was “deployed,” it made the phone ring, thereby prompting the visitor to understand: it’s time to go.

The seat-phone connection is a tool of influence – making or reminding a visitor of the need to leave due to a socially acceptable and higher-priority situation: “Oh your phone’s ringing. I should get going.”

Technology appeals to an inner set of instinctive priorities, and influences people to behave immediately. Although there’s a good deal of humor built into the design, it highlights a classic opportunity. Influence happens best when motivation comes from inside the other person, rather than being placed upon them.

There are many ways these lofty concepts can be integrated into daily life to ensure people behave and cooperate with you to help you achieve your goals. Here are just a few very doable actions.

Make things tangible. Just like Scott Adam’s chair, tangibility goes a long way in giving people a common vision.  Start with your calendar. If you want time to be left alone to get work done without interruption, make sure your colleagues or clients can see your calendar. It should have some times blocked off, and some times intentionally left open. It is much easier to get someone to come back if you give them visible proof of your availability and steer them towards those spaces.

Give them the comfort of the known. If you want to talk to someone, or have a phone call, give them an exact time and duration of the call. Let them understand this will not be a vague, never-ending conversation, but will instead be a fixed amount of time. A very low risk undertaking.

Don’t Overload People

If you want people to respond to your requests, do not overload them. Many people try to send too much information at one time, especially in emails. The simple rule should be a 1-2-3-4 approach like this: follows:

  1. Include only one message. If you tell someone more than one idea in an email, they will most likely forget all but one of the items, or even delay acting on any of them. It’s just too much. Even though it appears on the surface to be more efficient to cram a bunch of ideas into one message, the opposite is true. If you have three different messages to send to people, send them in three separate emails. So again, step 1 – one message.
  2. Use bullets. Those little black dots are excellent in guiding the eye around a page. The human eye is an amazing device, but it likes to conserve energy. It is drawn to graphic objects much more quickly than it is to text. This means your bullet symbols will result in less distraction by your reader.
  3. Tell your reader three times. Yes, three. Just like your high-school teacher might have taught you when preparing a report or an essay. You tell your readers what you are about to say, then you tell them then you tell them what you just told them. In the context of an email, this means your subject line should completely summarize, in 12 words or less, what your message is. Ideally, your reader should not have to read the email at all, if the subject line does its job properly. In fact, it’s a good idea to go on that assumption. The shorter and the clearer, the better.

Next you tell your story, in no more than three paragraphs, with the opening paragraph covering your key message, and the second paragraph providing support material or evidence. Again, assume your reader is not going to read the entire paragraph, but will just read the first line. Write accordingly.

At the end of your email, ideally as a PS., a post-script following your signature, tell them again. Give your reader a kick in the pants on the way out. This sounds severe, but it has always been a principle of human nature that attention spans are short, and memory is unreliable. This is doubly true in the age in which social media, texting, and other technologies threaten to take your reader’s attention away before you are finished with them.

  1. Make sure your email is entirely visible on one screen – the 4 items – the opening – Dear Steve, the bulleted paragraphs, the signature, and the Post Script should all be visible without scrolling. Why is this important? Because once again, is removes a fear from your reader. A fear of the unknown – how long is this email going to be? A fear of commitment. A fear of losing too much time.

Even though an email is a written message, it should be thought of more as a graphic advertisement, something whose visual appearance shouts, Hey, this is not that hard! You can do this.

Remember we are talking her about how to make things go your way. Getting people to read your emails and act upon them quickly goes a long way towards achieving your goals in this area.

Your Personal Credit Rating

But there’s something else. Something more human than email, and that has to do with your credit rating. Not the financial one that you use to borrow money, but your personal rating.

If you want things to go your way, you have to think about how people relate to you and how you want them to relate to you.

People can either fear you, or they can like you. In almost all cases, liking lasts longer. Robert Cialdini is a world-renowned expert in influence. In his book, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, he identifies six different ways that you can exert influence over someone. These are:

  • Reciprocity: you give something to me, I feel obliged to give back. I put out my hand to and you feel obliged to shake it.
  • Commitment and consistency: developing and sticking to habits or people that we know and have become comfortable with. Politicians very seldom change their hairstyle or clothing style once in office. They know people put faith in a consistent and reliable image that must not change, even a little bit, from day to day.
  • Social proof: we decide upon the correct action or opinions based on what others are doing. We see people wearing a certain fashion, most of us want to wear that. We ask for a recommendation for a good restaurant and we believe that you know what you’re talking about when you name a place.
  • Authority: we believe in and react to the authority of another. We know he or she is the boss or the leader and we respond accordingly.
  • Scarcity: we act now out of the fear that the opportunity might not exist in the future. Advertising is full of this: “order now, supplies are limited,” or these sale prices will not last.

And finally, there is Liking: we like to work with people we like. This is my favorite one and I think it is the most successful. People like to work with people they like. This doesn’t mean “love” nor does it mean an excessive devotion. But it refers to comfort and respect. If I acknowledge your hard work, if I talk to you face to face and genuinely listen to what you have to say, if I make you feel comfortable and respected, you are likely to respond with greater comfort and trust towards me.

This again is not something I wish to use as a tool of manipulation, but the truth is, if I need you to show up on time, or provide me with your part of the project, complete and on time, or if I need you to fill in for me, or if I simply want you to read and respond to my messages promptly – and possibly prioritize them higher than the others, the odds are better you will do this if you like me to some degree, rather than fear me.

I mentioned in a previous podcast that I believe the concept of leadership really comes down to one word: acknowledgement. People like to be acknowledged, and they will indeed reciprocate.

Now it could be said that many highly successful people such as Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and Warren Buffett made their billions by not necessarily being the nicest person in the room. I have never met them, so I don’t know how nice they may be. They became influential through social proof and authority. If you are in the same camp as these guys, that’s great. Use what you’ve got. But most people will not become the mega-giants of industry that Steve, Bill and Warren are. Most will instead carve out a career as part of a machine, not as the owner of the machine. Most people will judge their own success on a combination of elements, including financial security, job satisfaction, family and health.

If you can invest some of your time into the nurturing of relationships – invest part of that 80/20 rule I’m always talking about, you will build a collection of people that not only know you, but who also have positive feelings about you, feelings that you can capitalize on in an ethical and mutually beneficial way. People who like you are the people who will find opportunities for you and who will support and guide you.

I hope you will see that these topics extend well beyond the world of email and meetings. They can be applied to all aspects of life. They just need that cool clear head that keeps you aware of your surroundings and your great capacity to influence the world around you, and in turn, your future.

This is the transcript of the CoolTimeLife podcast entitled How to Make More Things Go Your Way. If you would like to listen to it, you can check it out at our podcast site here. If you would like to review other podcasts in this series, visit my podcast page at steveprentice.com/podcast.html

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Learning from Centuries of Stress, Power and Control

This post originally appeared in the April 2014 issue of Time Management for iPad Magazine.

book-the-48-laws-of-power1In his excellent book, The 48 Laws of Power, author Robert Greene presents an awe-inspiring collection of stories, taken from all corners of the globe and from all centuries – from history, scripture and folklore, that focus on power relationships between people. As he illustrates, power exists everywhere that two people interact. It fills the space between them, in terms of their respective abilities and influence on a situation. Consequently the awareness of one’s power in any given situation, either having power or lacking it, and the interaction that such an awareness has when it rubs up against the desire to effect change that is beneficial to oneself, becomes a source of stress.

Stress, after all, in both the physical and emotional worlds, is basically the tension exerted on an object by a force. Most people think of stress in the negative sense, since it occurs when “what is happening” does not equal “what should be happening,” in other words, a desire is exerted upon a situation but the results are not satisfactory. This negative stress is more properly called distress. Positive stress exists as well, of course. Its proper name is eustress. Positive eustress is sometimes just accepted as happiness, contentment or excitement. Great examples of this might be the exhilaration of downhill skiing, or watching a thrilling movie. Laughter, too, is a great, and very healthy positive stress.

But most people are aware only of negative stress, although they might not be aware of just how much damage it does to the human body and mind. Numerous clinical studies have suggested that stress is at the root of most major illnesses, due the impact on the immune and chemical systems of the body that instinctive defensiveness causes. Stress releases hormones that put people on guard, or make them fearful or resentful. Sleep is affected. Clear thought is affected too, as age-old reflexes revert to the fight-or-flight state that rejects intellectual thought, halts digestion and increases blood pressure, all in the name of facilitating a hasty escape.

In short, stress kills. It kills creativity, it kills opportunity, and eventually it kills people.

This is why Robert Greene’s book is so effective as a stress-management manual. Most self-help books provide recipes and regimens to follow: prescriptions for good health. But not all adults are good at following orders or techniques for more than a day or so. If they do not fit into an individual’s personality type, many good ideas stay forever locked on the outside of a person’s being.

But The 48 Laws of Power tells stories, and most people are very good at listening to stories. We learned it as children, and it remains a welcome medium for learning, as all major religions will attest. The stories in Greene’s book reveal the magic that happens when people allow stress to pass them by, replacing it with calm and clear thinking. The book does this not by telling the reader what to do, but instead telling the reader what others did.

For example, the story of a Chinese military general who was suspected of disloyalty to his emperor. He was given the ultimatum of creating ten thousand arrows by sunrise or being executed. Instead of hurriedly carving one arrow at a time, he sent a contingent of his soldiers downstream on a raft covered in hay and tethered by a long rope. The raft floated close to an enemy encampment in the dead of night, at which point the soldiers on the raft made a great deal of noise, prompting the camp’s guards to fire arrows towards the source of the disturbance. These arrows embedded themselves harmlessly in the raft’s hay bales. After some time, the raft was pulled back upstream and the arrows, ten thousand of them, were extracted, and presented to the emperor.

These types of stories demonstrate the significant gains that can be made by taking time to step back and think things through before either acting or merely reacting. Grace under pressure, leadership, confidence, charisma, clear decision-making – all of these admirable traits come from not allowing the heat and stress of the moment to overcome one’s higher thinking powers.

This is why the 80/20 rule is so important in managing time, tasks, and most importantly, stress. This rule, also known as the Pareto Principle, has many uses, an illustration of something small impacting something much larger. In the context of time management, this refers to taking the time to plan; to anticipate the future and its possible permutations, and to influence them in your favour.

The antidote to the sense of negative stress is the sense of control. Knowing and feeling that you are in control of a situation changes you physically and chemically. Stress hormones such as cortisol are called off. Blood and oxygen are redirected to the thinking areas of the brain. Blood vessels dilate and circulation improves. Vocal tone deepens (for men and women alike), and most importantly, thoughts, ideas and concerns can be prioritized.

It is well-known that panic is contagious, but so is calm. A person who takes the time to de-stress a situation does everyone a favour. People will flock to, and follow, the calm, confident leader who knows the way. They will do the tasks required, with confidence and faith.

This principle need not apply only to large-scale emergencies; a text message will do. Many tasks and relationships are damaged because people feel compelled to answer their text messages, emails or phone-calls the moment they arrive. This is stress dominating the moment. There is a fear that by not answering, the sender/caller will be offended. This “answering stress” is the medium of the immediate. It was designed originally to help keep humans alive in environments where large creatures dwelled, but now asserts itself in the false urgency of a caller’s expectations.

By contrast, the person who applies a small amount of their time to influence the future, by informing callers and clients as to when, where and how they will return calls, such as “always within two hours,” manages the expectations of the callers and as such controls the stress levels of all involved, including themselves.

Negative stress kills. But control, derived from planning according to the 80/20 rule, turns every situation into something that can be anticipated, handled, and transformed into a win.