I’d like to share a quick story about an argument I had with one of my managers at the university (for the record, we actually got along really well). We were in the military division there, which was comprised primarily of veterans, and if anyone knows the value of rank structure and chain of command, it’s veterans.
So, we’re arguing about some call coaching and how he’s telling me I should have said “this” or should have said “that” and how we couldn’t script things out because we’re in higher ed, etc., all the normal stuff. I remember explaining to him how we have relational power dynamics, and internally (in the organization, I mean), we have the luxury of ranks and titles, and I understand the employer-to-employee relationship and how I am more than willing to do what’s asked of me.
I remember telling him:
“Look … the director can speak with you in a certain way and that’s fine, because he’s the director. And you’re the manager, so you can speak with me in a certain way, and that’s fine because you’re the manager and I’m the team member. We have the luxury of internal ranks and titles that give us a certain (what we called in the Army) ‘command authority’ … but that authority doesn’t transfer to outside of the organization.”
What I meant by this is that “I can’t speak with our potential students in that same certain, authoritative way” because:
“I’m not their superior, and they’re not my subordinates,” I told him. “So I don’t have the luxury of a rank or title that helps me to just tell them what to do and they do it … it just, doesn’t work like that.”
This made a lot of sense to me at the time, but it doesn’t stop there because it wasn’t all there was to it. I was going through a divorce at the time (2013), and I was learning about relational power dynamics and how imbalances in power often times cause things to go wrong in relationships. Even though I didn’t connect the dots at the time, this all started to clue me in on how power dynamics are present in every relationship, both business and personal.
Ranks and titles afford us the luxury of explicitly having power over others, and don’t get me wrong; I value the idea of a chain of command and good order and discipline amongst workplaces and homes and society as a whole; but what happens when you strip away the ranks and titles?
Well, power dynamics are still present, and what I started to figure out way back then, is how to purposefully influence them in my favor, and it all starts with how you come across in the opening of the initial interaction. You see, there are primal, instinctive, concerns we all have when we speak with anyone new and they go in this order:
When you make it past the opening of the interaction and there’s a YES for every single one of these, then you’ll be instinctively labeled by the other person as: SOMEONE WORTH PAYING ATTENTION TO—which establishes the power dynamic in your favor.
Get all YESSES, and as the smoke clears from the initial interaction, you will emerge in the leader position. When you win this initial subconscious and primal battle to establish dominance, you will have the type of relationship where you are viewed as a trusted advisor: an EXPERT. This means the other person will happily follow your guidance and thank you for it because:
EVERYONE LOVES WORKING WITH EXPERTS
But here’s the big problem with this: if you get a NO for any of these, primal, instinctive concerns, you’ll still make it past the opening every single time and usually progress beyond the initial interaction. So what’s the big deal?
All YESSES = EXPERT WHEREAS EVEN ONE SINGLE NO = NOVICE
So, the big difference between these two scenarios is, if the person you’re speaking with views you as an EXPERT, he will consciously pay attention and take you seriously whereas if he views you as a NOVICE, he will tune you out and actively seek reasons to explore other options (by being hyper-critical of every little thing you say).
This determination between EXPERT and NOVICE is instinctively made in less than :30 seconds of speaking with someone new, and you know what I’m talking about here. You just get that feeling, and instinctively, you can usually tell if someone can actually help you or not (or if you “like” or “trust” the person).
If the person you’re speaking with instinctively labels you as a novice, then he’ll still go along with you and pretend like he’s listening, but he’ll only offer up one-word answers to your questions and not really engage. His guard stays up, so he won’t be as open with the information he shares with you, and the reason he seems to go along with you still, is:
NO ONE WANTS TO BE OPENLY PERCEIVED AS “MEAN”
So, he goes along just to be “nice,” but when the time comes to make an actual purchasing decision, he’ll balk since he feels like he’s working with a novice. On the other hand, if he viewed you as an expert, you’ll have a much easier time closing the deal—it’ll be much more natural, much more “no big deal” experience with less haggling and runaround.
And really, this all comes down to your ability to influence the other person’s perception of you. There’s a lot of truth to the old saying: “99% of perception is reality,” and the way we feel about things (no matter if right or wrong), definitely influences our beliefs about them.
Knowing what these primal, instinctive concerns are and how to purposefully relieve them by knowing which buttons to push and which levers to pull—psychologically speaking—is how you can scientifically and systematically get people to consistently listen and take you seriously—regardless of established ranks and titles.
This is how you take charge without having to say: “DAMMIT !!! Listen to me because I’m in charge!”
In most cases, when you find yourself having to assert your authority and remind everyone around you that you’re in control of a situation:
IT REALLY MEANS YOU’RE NOT