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What the Bar can learn from... … The masters of influence

What is it that brilliant influencers do to get people on their side? Try adopting techniques from the world of sales to read client personalities, influence decisions and get more – and better – briefs

Thirty years ago Professor Robert Cialdini wrote the seminal work Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion that has become a text book for psychology undergraduates and a blueprint for much of the behavioural science research conducted today. Alongside reviewing research on what makes people say ‘yes’, Cialdini did something very interesting. He went undercover for two years, taking jobs with four different businesses to try and see what it is that brilliant influencers did naturally to get people on their side. What he discovered was that humans have built-in triggers that override logic and reason in our decision-making processes. When we understand what these triggers are, and how they are used by effective influencers, we can uncover how to be more effective in getting what we want.

To avoid you as a barrister having to go undercover, I’m going to share some of what sales professionals use regularly from this work to help get more yes’s. I hope to show you that by understanding more about the people you are seeking to influence, and by getting out of your own way a little, you will be able to get on with a wider range of people, influence a wider range of decisions, and ultimately get more higher-paid briefs.

When I spoke last year at Middle Temple’s Survive & Thrive Programme, I was surprised by how many barristers were open to learning from the world of business on how to influence. While the Daily Telegraph headlined the advice as ‘be less pompous to win over wealthy international clients’, the discussion went deeper than its headline. What hit a chord was that focusing on the skills of human interaction yields tangible results for lawyers.

Britain’s exceptional legal training provides ample development of our logical capabilities and enables us to win in the courtroom by providing clear and rational arguments. However, something very different happens when we need to influence our own clients, potential referrers, or even jury. Judges are trained to distinguish logical argument but juries are influenced by many other factors. Financial success depends on a wide network of relationships with clients, clerks, colleagues and collaborators.

How to get people to like you

Cialdini’s initial research identified six ‘hidden tools of compliance’; automatic triggers that increase the likelihood of a yes. While one of these, Liking, is one we all appreciate, when we dive in deeper you may be surprised to realise that liking is more controllable than you think. It is easy to say ‘we can’t please all the people all of the time’ to dismiss solicitors who aren’t briefing you, but the truth may be that if more people liked you, you may get better results.

Knowing that ‘like’ means two things in the English language opens an understanding of this pre-disposition to saying yes. At a basic level it’s why you get more briefs from people who went to your school, or who like the same things. That, however, is a limited view. Yes, we tend to like people who are like us. Yet when you realise that people say yes more easily to people they identify with, it becomes logical to find out what people are really like, and to find those things in common that you can connect with.

You don’t need to have the same background to find things in common. Interestingly, the research shows that common personality traits easily bond us to people who are like us, and there is very little correlation between background and personality.

For this reason, many of the influence professionals I coach focus on learning as much about how they use their own psychological traits. A deeper understanding of your own qualities, and the ability to read the traits that others value, enables you to connect more deeply with others; even if they are different to you. If you understand that a person is, for example more ‘Big Picture’ than you, in that they don’t share your desire for details and precision, this insight will enable you to frame your approach to them in a way that is more understandable and likeable to them.

Personality typing

Modern psychology tends to focus on the ‘Big 5’ traits: Openness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness and Neuroticism. While these terms may not be familiar, there are many simple tools around that will help you to understand yourself in relation to these aspects of personality. Understanding yourself is step one, then it is easier to adapt and connect with anyone less like you.

"While the Daily Telegraph headlined the advice as ‘be less pompous to win over wealthy international clients’, the discussion went deeper."

Corporate leadership programmes often start with the understanding of personality and many leading law firms have in-house occupational psychologists helping leaders get the best from their personal psychology. In the US more than 50% of the Fortune 500 use the MBTI (Myers-Briggs Type Indicator) assessment, despite its outdated and simplified approach. In the UK more innovative tools, such as the Lumina Spark portrait, can help you to improve your capacity to adapt and connect with people, building rapid rapport. One lawyer uses his Lumina Spark app after meeting a client to speed-read their personality and adds the results to the file, so that the whole firm knows how to best approach them in the future.

Spot the clues

You don’t need a fancy psychometric, though, to become more connected to others. When you think about the four areas Lumina measures, you will instantly find clues around you as to the people you are dealing with. The first measure, Introversion vs Extroversion, you’ll spot through body language and speed, pace and volume of the person you are speaking to. Understanding this dimension, and whether the person gets their energy from others (the classic ‘Extrovert’) or tends to reflect internally, will help you understand how best to present a solution. In the same way the classic head vs heart idea (labelled Outcome Focus vs People Focus by modern psychologists) is critical to know, particularly if you understand your personal preference.

Learning to tone down your Outcome Focus and be less competitive and logical when dealing with someone who prefers less of this energy, won’t only get you more liked, it will get you more of what you want.

This idea of personality typing isn’t new; Hippocrates proposed humans have four humours some 2,500 years ago. While the tools to measure personality have become more accurate and nuanced, the idea that you can see four personality styles in others is something that many professional influencers use every day to build relationships and get results. When you can see whether your colleague or client is ‘Fiery Red’ , ‘Sunshine Yellow, ‘Earth Green’ or ‘Conscientious Blue’ it doesn’t only help you see their point of view, it helps you find a way to change it.

Cialdini showed that humans make decisions unconsciously, based on reasons like Social Proof, Scarcity, Reciprocation, Authority, Consistency and Liking. The sales people I train know that if they understand these ideas, they can use not only the logical arguments, but also persuade gently through the less conscious decision-making networks.

While it may seem a little ‘dark arts’, what Cialdini found was that naturally persuasive people use these tools intuitively. How much time have you given to understanding how the people around you think and make decisions? If you haven’t been giving it much thought, then you may be missing a trick; one that can produce results in your professional and personal life.

Gavin Presman is a best-selling author and international sales leadership coach, supporting businesses to get more from their people, while enabling individuals to get more from their work.;

NB. This article was orginally written for Counsel Magazine.

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