If you have been following my blog a little, you will have seen the word “influence” in quite a few of the posts. Now, I believe that we are all intelligent and capable of our own thoughts, and as such learning the ideas of influence serve us in three ways:
protect us from people using the same techniques on us
We now can influence ourselves
Our communication with others is much better
While there are many different ways to influence someone, I tend to stress more subtle or unconscious aspects. Yet, a recent article in “Scientific American Mind” has made me doubt whether that is worth it at all. Sadly, it seems we are a pack animal after all, and we tend to outsource our thinking to others – specifically “Hollywood Movies” !
Thoughts. We all have them, most of the time at least. Monks and spiritual leaders train themselves to shut their thoughts up, and get into a state of not-thinking. A state Carlos Castaneda referred to as “Stop the World”. Yet, this is not what we are aiming for today. What has recently caught my interest is the process of thought that leads to innovation and progress. Caught somewhere between daydreaming and number crunching, so to speak, we find the pendulum of progress, swinging politely in the background of our culture.
When I was 12 years old, I remember looking around and being asked: “And what do you want to be when you grow up?” While I deeply love my family and friends where I was raised, I felt something deep inside me stir, as I responded: “I don’t know what I want to do, but I know where I want to be: Not here!” And so it was that at the age of 19, I moved out, of the house I was raised in, out of the country I grew up in. Nowadays, I tend to go back home for vacation every once in a while, and in doing so, I have noticed a disturbing tendency: at the same time as I am part of that place I call home, I am also just an outside observer looking in.
I have spent the last couple of weeks reading a lot of literature about techniques for influence and persuasion. For me, this is an absolutely fascinating topic, with so many wildly different opinions on it. Ranging from social and cognitive psychologists, to sales people, to absolute Muppets promising gold and delivering dung, there is not much I have not read. Yet, in all these books, there is one idea lacking, that is actually one of the most powerful and easy things to do….
The guard of a zen master in one of the most esteemed monasteries passed away. Once this happened, the zen master started looking for a replacement throughout the country, and several men applied. Once they had all gathered in the monastery, the zen master explained the following:”I am looking for a new guard. I will give all of you one test, a problem, and whoever solves it first will become the new guard”.
“Judge others by their questions rather than by their answers.”
What makes a good communicator? What makes a person innovative? What makes a good change facilitator? To all these, my personal answer is: good questions! We have been taught in school for many (maybe far too many) years, and spoon fed the knowledge we needed at the time to pass the courses, yet from a that I have to say that very little managed to stick in my mind. What did stick are the rare occasions when a teacher suddenly asked a question that required me to dig deep inside me for an answer. Questions in general, force the person you are talking to to actively participate in finding meaning and making meaning, even more so than just telling stories or giving advice. So then, what are these good questions?
Meeting someone new, we all start off with the regular small talk, asking about many general things, among them the job. When it comes to that, I usually look deeply and meaningfully into the persons eyes and say:”I am a hypnotist”. The reactions from people are nothing short of priceless. Many times there is a look of fear on their face, followed by something to the extent of:”ooh, then don’t look into my eyes…”. While this is an amusing episode, it does show that we have been influenced by television and movies to think about hypnosis as something dangerous and potentially damaging for us. Yet, the truth is, we all hypnotize each other all the time.