An Influencing Paradox – Dr Valerio Pascotto

Recently, I was looking at synonyms in the dictionary for influencing and I found words such as affect, have an impact on, determine, guide, shape, change, alter and transform. These are generally positive terms particularly if influencing has a constructive impact. Then as I scrolled down, another set of synonyms appeared such as sway, control, govern, decide, bias, prejudice, pressure, coerce, intimidate, browbeat and brainwash. All without question were negative with significant consequences to relationship and trust.

When I queried managers in a leadership workshop on what might account for such a difference, the answers ranged from situation, context, audience and the style of the person who was influencing. Interpretations and perceptions were also mentioned.

Not fully satisfied that we had reached the core that would explain such opposite interpretations I decided to ask what one wants to achieve by influencing?

The responses were quite immediate. They all centered on the desire to get buy-in, help the person understand, support the point or ideas presented and generally convince the other.

If the communication is advocating for the other to do something the influencer wishes he/she would do, then it is understandable that perceptions could include a sense of being manipulated and possibly even pressured. After all, Cialdini, who wrote a book on influencing, was motivated to do so because he was purchasing, from door to door sales people, vacuum cleaners that he did not need and found himself wondering what they had over him to convince him to do something that he actually did not wish to do. Clearly not the best of beginnings to build a relationship or to have the positive impact of the first group of synonyms.

Considering the almost opposite meaning of these synonyms, it became apparent that what was needed was a 180° redefinition for influencing. So I asked where else do we use the word influencing with only extraordinary positive outcomes? When asked such a question, there was a pause as the workshop participants gathered their thoughts, then a manager said: “I would use the word influencing for someone who has had an extraordinarily positive impact in my life. A transformative impact.”

With that redefinition, I then asked other participants to think about such a person in their lives. What would be the feelings and memories? The responses were very similar and all centered around appreciation, gratitude and thankfulness. There was no perception of the influencer wanting to convince or get buy-in, rather an undiluted desire to see the other be the best that they can be. It was simply rooted in care and love.

At the end of the workshop, I gathered all my notes and decided to design a workshop on influencing that proposed a paradox. The paradox being that the influencer without seeking to convince, rather just wanting to support, has a much greater capability of being a catalyst for change and buy-in without risking feelings of manipulation, pressure or worse.

I created a diagram to gather the many skills such an influencer would display:

Borrowing from the wisdom of the leadership workshop participants, I compiled some critical skills. Top of the list was listening, not just hearing, but listening with presence, interest and care. Next was the ability to inspire and evoke the best in the other. This was achieved through empathy, affirmation, focus and guiding through artful questions. Often, responses generated from open-ended questions were followed with reflecting, paraphrasing and summarizing.

Having mapped these qualities and skills, the paradox was validated. I had come across the work of William Miller (Motivational Interviewing) and his discovery that a telling, directing and lecturing style invariably produced a defensive response coupled with justification and denial and ending with disengagement and withdrawal. Miller also engaged the same subjects with someone exhibiting the skills we highlighted for an influencing style and this time, the responses were quite different. The same person felt understood, affirmed, accepted and willing to cooperate. Hence the paradox, while the influencer is not attempting to create buy-in, the person he or she is engaging is feeling accepted and open, interested in wanting to hear from the influencer and even eager to follow through.

In summary, leaders who are genuinely focused in caring and supporting, wanting to see the success of others and truly interested will know they have had an influence as they will be met with gratitude, thankfulness and a keen desire from those around them to co-construct a successful future.

Evolving strategies for greater effectiveness in learning and development – John McNelly

It has become widely recognized in recent years that 70% of learning and development takes place from real-life and on-the-job experiences, tasks, and problem solving; 20% of the time development comes from relationships with other people through informal or formal feedback, mentoring, or coaching; while only 10% of learning and development comes from formal training or education.  Research has also indicated that millennials are even less inclined towards formal classroom training than their Baby Boomer parents. These observations about how people learn have had a profound influence on discussions about learning and development strategies within most large organizations in recent years.

So what is the best deployment of L&D resources in a 70/20/10 world where 90% of learning appears to be informal? While today there are no established models or templates to inform us how we should operate in a 70/20/10 world some basic design fundamentals have become quite clear; for instance we now understand that the 10% needs to be designed with the conscious intention of providing appropriate foundation and support for the learning that is going to take place in the other 90%. A lot of the knowledge transfer associated with the 10% can now be carried out through the use of technologies which enable students to learn at their own pace and then contextualize the information and concepts to suite their own situation.

It is also apparent that organizations need to take maximum advantage of the potential for behavior change and driving strategic direction that can take place within the informal and formal feedback, mentoring and coaching of the 20% and that they need to also look for ways of providing tools and resources, which can support the learning that takes place within the 70%.

Beyond a recognition of what is needed to support the different phases of the learning process it is becoming increasingly apparent that in an environment where individuals are taking greater responsibility for their own development todays L&D strategies need to include elements that place training activities within a narrative or coherent learning journey that is attractive to potential participants. In short there is a greater need to market and sell these activities within the organization. These elements can take the form of branding, internal marketing campaigns, podcasts, reinforcement sessions, action learning groups and review sessions and lively conversations on social media.  

In a time of economic constraint the big question for many learning and development professionals is going to be where should they be concentrating their limited resources for greatest impact? A lot of organizations seem to be focusing their attention on the 20% as the area where they see the most potential for significant return on investment. We can see this in the rising number of organizations that are setting up mentoring programs and pursuing strategies which involve training their first line managers to coach.

Until recently the cultivation of the skills required to develop a coaching culture were best disseminated through face-to-face sessions with expert coaches. Now with the advent of more sophisticated live virtual environments where the choreography of multiple web cam inputs and the instant availability of varied individual and team exercises that picture is changing. Simulations and role-plays can now be facilitated across the Internet by expert coaches and trainers who are empowered by technologies that enable them to monitor and direct activities in ways that have never been possible in the traditional classroom.


The effectiveness of these new virtual workshop environments is enabling the design of training strategies that are more relevant to the patterns of learning that have been recognized in the 70/20/10 world. The flexible scheduling made possible by live virtual delivery enables participants to engage with coaches and subject matter experts in ongoing learning experiences over periods of several months. The opportunities this provides for reinforcement, reviews of practical application, feedback and coaching is clearly suited to supporting learners in the strategically important 20% within the 70/20/10 model. This flexibility is also allowing for rapid company wide live virtual coaching interventions to support changes in strategy and the introduction of new competitive offerings to the marketplace.

The spontaneous interaction that is taking place between the participants themselves and between participants and coaches in these live virtual workshops is also proving to be fertile ground for innovation. Drawing on what they are learning in the workshops participants are working together in small live virtual groups to design practical experiments they can carry out on the front line. They are then reporting back on their experiments in follow-up sessions and refining and developing their ideas as innovations that can be of benefit to the whole organization. The fact that all the inputs into activities carried out in these virtual workshops is being captured and distributed means that these live virtual workshops are generating assets that can be of benefit not just to the participants themselves but also to the whole organization. It is now becoming apparent that the development of creative strategies for utilizing the information captured in live virtual workshops is going to be an area of increasing interest to organizations as their use of live virtual workshops increases.

It is clear that our understanding of how people learn, aligned with the creative use of new technologies, is going to contribute much to defining the role of L&D as we move into the future. We believe that central to that discussion will be the role of live virtual coaching programs and workshops which when they are aligned to strategic business objectives become powerful new instruments of corporate strategy.