Lisa Gardner: Is it Better to Be Loved or Feared?

Lisa Gardner
Lisa Gardner

We are all in the business of serving one another internally and externally serving our clients. Sometimes we are called to serve by influencing others. How to best influence becomes the question. A recent article in the Harvard Business Review, “Connect, then Lead” by Alan Phillips, identifies two character traits for those in a position of influence.

The first character trait is how lovable they are, which includes their warmth, communion, or trustworthiness. The second character trait is how fearsome they are, which includes their strength, agency, or competence.

So what does this have to do with internal and external influence? A whole lot!

This reminded me of a client call that I participated in a couple of months ago. I sensed immediately that the client truly needed us to address warmth first versus strength. However, the dialogue quickly turned to strength; we were trying to influence by sharing our competence. The client did not respond well and I left feeling a true lack of connection (warmth).

When we put strength first, we work hard to display our competence. We want others to see us as being strong. As Phillips writes, “We feel compelled to demonstrate that we are up to the job, by striving to present the most innovative ideas in meetings, being the first to tackle a challenge, and working the longest hours.” He goes on to say that you become sure of your intentions and often forget the importance of proving that you are trustworthy.

When warmth comes first, a greater and more significant contribution is given to others for them to evaluate us. Phillips states that warmth is judged before competence. Based on two studies by a Princeton social psychologist, the research shows people pick up on warmth faster than competence. Further research explains within the article, trust increases information sharing, openness, fluidity and cooperation. Also it says, trust facilitates the exchange and acceptance of ideas; it allows people to hear others’ message and boosts the quantity and quality of the ideas that are produced within an organization.

The best way to increase influence is through a combination of warmth and strength. Establishing warmth may take time—more than one client call, more than one initial meeting. Showing how much we know, how competent we are by using a large vocabulary of technical terms can truly turn off a client, even at the c-suite level.

Establishing warmth (trust) leads back to what I have always believed; Dig deep into their business models, goals, objectives, and strategies and leave your service or products on the back burner for as long as you can. Understand their professional and personal passions in order to build the trust, commune, and build this sense of warmth. Be more concerned about their company objectives than what we are trying to influence them to believe. Learn our client’s company lingo instead of pushing our company/industry technical jargon, in hopes they will be impressed—because they are not.

Internally, co-workers need to feel the same trustworthiness in order to work cooperatively, with fluidness, oneness, and unity. When management instills the sense of trust within the organizational structure they have a chance to influence people’s attitudes and beliefs, not just outward behavior, as stated by the HBR author.

Remember, as Phillips says so well, “Before people decide what they think of your message, they decide what they think of you.”

Lisa Gardner, a former executive with both PepsiCo and J.C. Penney, heads up consulting and strategy development for OMS Strategic Advisors. Contact her at [email protected]

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