Have you ever watched the Men in Black movie series? These secret agents had the mission to regulate the presence of extraterrestrials on earth and to annihilate the most bellicose who came to conquer our planet.
You may recall the enthusiasm of Agent J (played by Wil Smith) when Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones) first introduced him with specialized weapons to fight the wicked ET’s. In fact, each weapon was designed for a specific race of invaders, to J’s regrets as he found the imposing machines much more exciting. Yet even the smallest weapons proved particularly destructive if used judiciously.
Choose your weapons
Agent J had to admit that to succeed, he had to adapt his weapons to his opponent, despite his personal preferences.
This principle is interesting because it readily applies to effective communication and influence. Of course, I’m not suggesting to consider others as opponents to put to death! But the concept of choosing one’s weapons is quite relevant.
Indeed, a common mistake is to think that there is only one rational way to convince someone else. Facts are facts, after all. Yet, every person you talk to is a different beast, and ignoring this reduces your potential of success to a minimum.
Connect with others
Communicating is not just about you and your message, nor about your personal preferences. Your success depends on your ability to lead the person in front of you to a common ground.
You must begin from his starting point, and then bridge between his goals and yours. It is not to say that the other one can’t find his way to you without your help. But if you guide him, you greatly increase your impact.
To first meet him on his ground, it is essential that you take into account his objectives, values and preferences – which can be difficult to detect with certainty.
That’s why I’d like to propose a reference model, which could make a difference in the success of your communications.
Duality of motivations
On the motivation continuum, there are people who, at one extreme, are primarily results driven, who are energized by making things happen. At the other extreme, there are those who are first people oriented, caring about others and investing in their success.
- What do you know about the person you want to influence? How do you perceive him? Is he more motivated by attaining results than caring about others?
Duality in decision making
On the decision-making continuum, there are those who ask a lot of questions before making decisions at one end. At the other end, there are people who are affirmative in life and who make decisions on the basis of little information.
- How would describe the person you want to influence? What is his attention span and interest in details?
If you take into account the motivations of others, and the way they make decisions, you will establish privileged contacts that will be key for the success of your communications.
Demonstration of the usefulness of the model
Let’s see how this model can be useful to you.
Assume that you have been overworked for several months, and you have reached your limit. You decide to make an appointment with your supervisor to share your issue, and motivate him to find a way to reduce your workload.
- To prepare for this meeting, you have created a one-pager showing the overtime of recent months, and the tasks that have been assigned to you recently with their due dates.
Let’s consider your best options:
- If your supervisor is results-driven, then focus on the impact of your workload on achieving results. Risks of error, delays, impacts on the deadlines of your colleagues, etc. You may also inform your supervisor of the impact of work overload on your energy level and happiness, but do not dwell on it too much. You will probably be more successful by emphasizing the adverse impacts on results.
- If your supervisor is people-oriented, and shows great concern for the happiness and health of your team, then focus on the human impacts of your work overload. On you and on others. You will capture his attention, and you will motivate him to intervene.
And please, also take into account his way of thinking and making decisions.
- If you are dealing with someone that is affirmative, do not burden him with reports, tables and details. Get to the point. Otherwise you risk losing his attention, which is probably limited to start with.
- On the contrary, if your supervisor likes to go into details, get prepared with the necessary support material to answer all of his questions. He will be more comfortable making decisions that will be favorable to you.
Reach your goal
We all too often forget that to communicate successfully, it is essential to adjust to others. Any topic can be presented in many ways. It is for you to find the angle which will connect best with others. It is up to you to identify how to bridge your reality with other’s – so that you can be heard and understood.
After all, you are the one who wants to achieve a result.
So, choose your weapons wisely!