The Science Of Influence

Between Rushville and McLean, I spent a dozen or so miles listening to the first part of this lecture. It’s all about increasing your ability to sell people products and services, but it’s built around a collection of simple – and I mean bonehead simple – observations about human nature.

As I listened I realized that I could use those observations as tools to examine my own behavior, in my own recent past, and maybe learn a few things. I went through them in my head one at a time:

The majority of people will do far more to avoid losing something they already have than they will to get something they don’t have.

The best example from my recent life is my job. In the struggle to remain productive in my job, I disrupted my relationships, gave up most of my spare time, and eventually lost so much sleep and built up so much stress that I developed a serious medical condition. I knew that if I quit my job I would have plenty of time and space to recover, but I ignored that fact for about a year, and things got very bad.

If I had been unemployed, and was offered that job, and was told that to keep it I would have to let my health decline to such an atrocious state, I would have immediately said “Are you insane? NO WAY am I going to do that to myself. I’ll look for work somewhere else.”

Why did I cling to that job for so long? Pessimism and stubbornness. I was convinced that there was no better job out there for me, and I was convinced that I could suffer my way through these health problems. I never thought of myself as a pessimist, but in that situation, it was true. “There is no more exciting or suitable programming job in the world, than here at Apple, in my exact position.” The thought made me happy, … until it became a barrier to change. And I have always been remarkably stubborn.

If your guidance benefits people long-term, they will remember that and trust you.

What’s interesting to me about this is, I’m seeing it applied in my relationships. The people I have respected and trusted the most – as friends, or as lovers – are people who made decisions or gave advice that showed they were clearly interested in my long-term well-being as well as their own. Two examples:

  1. When my health was declining earlier this year, Erika decided to start cooking meals at my house. It gave us an opportunity to share more meals together, further share the cost of feeding ourselves, and share a morning commute. She was doing something that benefitted me at least as much as herself, and I appreciated the way she’d aligned our interests.
  2. After Carol and I met for the second time, she said she planned to go on a date with – and sleep with – a different guy the next night. I was unhappy about it but I had no “claim” to her so I tried to accept it as a reasonable decision. But the fact was, what she did was in her own best interests, and totally against mine, and she expressed no remorse that it was so. Day 3 of our relationship, and I was already losing respect for her.
A person’s desire for something will often increase if other people appear to desire it too.

A great example of this is the stock market. How much of the stock market is based on hard economic knowledge? Very little. How much is based on second-guessing of what other people want? Almost all. What bollocks.

Personally, this is an interesting one. I’ve always been rather contrarian when it comes to the wisdom of crowds, and I think that translates into my relationships. I am prone to reject someone who acts as though they are wanted by many people – someone who is mercurial and hard to get in touch with, declares that they are “overwhelmed” by social obligations, et cetera. I perceive them as being difficult to achieve intimacy with, and often as having a low opinion of other people. But at the same time, people who simply are in demand can impress me with the quality of their persona and the diversity of their relationships and activities. Everyone I meet falls somewhere on these two graphs, and I am most impressed by people who lead busy lives but can still make time to connect authentically with people.

My own social life seems to go in very long waves. At UCSC I was in constant demand, and enjoyed it. At Apple I was in constant demand, and before my health declined, I enjoyed it. Right now, I am generally hiding from all but a few people, like I did in Carlsbad and in Davis before that. Things may open up again … or they may not for a while.

People like to have choices. It gives them freedom. But, if you give people too many choices they will simply freeze and do nothing.

This also explains my situation. As long as I entertain ideas of doing anything, I’m going to be unable to make up my mind. What I need to do is narrow my future down to a handful of options – four or five – and then choose among those. I think I’ll try this out in a while.

2 Responses to The Science Of Influence

  1. Lisa says:

    Hi there,
    Somehow stumbled across your blog, and am intrigued. I am a UCSC grad myself, now living in the Tempe suburbs. I like your point of view and musings on things.

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