In the first three months at Amazon, I worked to align and build consensus with stakeholders from two organizations toward a single system. After I presented facts and figures to leadership, I thought the direction would be resolved.
It became a 6-month hot debate.
All the options were difficult to adopt due to a lack of scalability and customization. "Influence" became a critical dimension for leadership to assess a team's ability to coordinate, build, and ship cross-organizations. We should "eat our own dog food" and multiply the impact on our work.
Being a new hire, I didn't have any influence. While influence requires no skills, people don’t believe in facts. They believe in people they like.
During my design investigation, I left no stone unturned and discovered it was a mess. I wasn't particularly empathetic toward the WHY and offered solutions to these problems. My attitude was, "stop wasting time and start fixing it; here's what I need."
To bury me, the receiver forwarded me through a maze of unnecessary processes (eight steps, three weeks+).
Made my life hell. I've made three critical mistakes.
- I jumped into the relationship too quickly by pointing out the flaws. Trust is not given but earned. I did not earn any trust with that approach, even if I had evidence.
- I did not make their problems my problems. I made my problem theirs.
- I called out the system deficiencies in public. That was not likable.
Based on the explanations and low quality, I lacked trust in the team's ability. I was triggered because the same thing happened in my past workplace. I was over it. I didn't respond sensitively because I had higher expectations. It was dejavu, reliving hell again.
In the next year, I attempted to rebuild trust with focus groups, usability testing, and giving away designs. Ultimately, the project shipped, and the org was aligned.
How to increase your influence?
The six main tenets of persuasion from Dr. Robert Cialdini's book Influence speak about the psychology of why people say "yes." 35 years of research boils down to the following:
- Commitment & Consistency - "Not easily swayed from core beliefs and actions align with expectations." Build trust by listening to counterarguments and opinions. Help bring clarity to the group and help them understand what you see. A person who is trustworthy does not only talk about beliefs but inspires with action.
- Reciprocation - "Repay what was provided for you." Be the first to offer something: time, advice, resources, or connections. If you are the receiver, reciprocating builds trust. Make their problem yours and explain why it matters.
- Social Proof - The social pressures to conform, or "herd behavior". We are often swayed by people around us, giving into agreements because we want to be amicable. When we disagree with the overall group, we allow others to have their input and learn through failing. We validate people's efforts and attempts and prioritize learning.
- Authority - "People in Power." When you have someone in a power position to back your principles, they make things easier for you. In order to convince the authority, we must influence without it.
- Likeability - "Physical attractiveness and similarity." You don't need plastic surgery or be popular to be well-liked. To be well-liked, we can engage with compliments, cooperation, association, and familiarity around common beliefs.
- Scarcity - "Fear of Losing Out" FOMO. When something is scarce, we believe it's more valuable.
In conclusion, what we can control are two things: commitment and likeability. Showing up requires no special skill. Being likable allows you to open doors to ask for help. We must be sensitive to those whom we disagree with. Once trust is broken, it's a herculean effort to repair.
"You can lead a horse to water but can't make it drink." 🐴
PS: My last post about design quality mechanisms led to speaking to a new designer interested in implementing it at another org! :) I'm excited about the possibility of that process being adopted and tested by someone else.
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