I’d like to share a quick story about an argument I had with one of my managers at the university. Like I mentioned previously, we had a military division 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.
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 clients and clients 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 to help me 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 causes 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 first :28 seconds of the initial interaction.
You see, there are a lot of things happening under the surface when people speak for the first time about anything (business, personal, doesn’t matter). There is a subconscious, primal struggle to establish power and dominance in the relationship, and it goes like this:
There are instinctive concerns running through the subconscious mind of the person you’re speaking with (and these are also going through your mind at the same time), and it goes, pretty much in this order:
- Do I perceive threat or feel safe, YES or NO?
- Do I sense reward, YES or NO?
- Is the person speaking with me high or low status, YES or NO?
- Is the information useful or relevant, YES or NO?
- Is it interesting or boring, YES or NO?
When you make it past the first :28 seconds and there’s a YES for every one of these, then you will have won the subconscious battle for dominance, which establishes the power dynamic in your favor.
As the smoke clears, you will emerge from the first :28 seconds in the alpha position (the leader), and from that point forward, the other person will be in the beta position (the follower). When you win this initial subconscious battle, you will enjoy the type of relationship where you are viewed as an expert, the authority figure who’s worth listening to. This means the other person happily follows your guidance and thanks you for it.
But here’s the big problem with this: if you get a NO for any of these, you’ll still make it past the :28 second mark every single time. So what’s the big deal?
All YESSES equals “expert” (someone who can help me get what I want who is worth listening to) whereas one single NO equals “novice” (someone who can’t help me who is therefore not worth listening to).
So, the big difference between these two scenarios is, if the person you’re speaking with views you as:
- an expert, he or she will actually pay attention and take you seriously
- a novice, he or she will tune you out and actively seek reasons to explore other options
And these determinations are instinctively made in (usually) less than :30 seconds of speaking with someone new, and you know what I’m talking about here, too.
I mean, you just get that feeling, and instinctively, you can tell whether or not someone can actually help you and whether or not they’re worth listening to.
If the person you’re speaking with instinctively labels you as a novice, then they may go along with you and pretend like they’re listening, but they’ll only offer up one-word answers and not really engage in meaningful conversation. They won’t be as forthcoming with the information they share with you because their guard is up, and the reason why they’ll pretend to go along with you is: no one wants to be perceived as “mean.”
So, they’ll play along just to be “nice,” but when the time comes to make an actual purchasing decision, they’ll balk if they view you as a novice.
On the other hand, if they view 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” with less haggling and runaround, less sharpshooting.
And really, this all comes down to your ability to influence the other person’s (potential client, first date, interviewing manager, etc.) perception of you. There’s a lot of truth to the old adage: “99% of perception is reality,” and the way we feel about things (no matter if right or wrong), definitely influences our beliefs.
Knowing what those primal, instinctive concerns are and how to purposefully relieving them is how you can scientifically get people to consistently listen and take you seriously – regardless of established ranks and titles. It’s almost kind of like playing poker; when it comes to poker, my friends all know that I don’t really know how to play it that well, but I have been known to win a few hands here and there when playing with strangers.