Though some people do it, most would not make their first running event a marathon; especially if they never ran more than a mile in their lives. If they were to compete in such a long road race, they may not finish, or even if they did, most likely they would be covered in blisters, their skin would be chafed raw, and they would have a difficult time walking correctly for days afterwards.
So why do we wait until we have a very important meeting or life situation to test out our influence skills? Wouldn’t it make more sense and be more beneficial to work up to the big meeting or life event with smaller attempts at influence so you can hone and refine your technique in various situations before jumping in to a make or break conversation? Of course it would! So why do we avoid practicing Influence? Simply put, we do not see the opportunities that are in front of us on a daily basis. There are several times throughout the day, e.g. at work, in our communities, at home, and even at leisurely get-togethers with friends, when we can flex our influence muscles and stretch past our comfort zone when presented with low risk situations.
For example, you are out at your local mall and one of the kiosk workers has descended upon you with their product trying to pressure you into a sale. If you are not one for high-pressure bargaining, you can use this opportunity to employ the Influence Style of Asserting by saying, “I appreciate that you have great enthusiasm for your product. What I do not like are your high-pressure tactics to get me to purchase this item. I want you to be less aggressive when speaking with me. If you do that, I will consider returning to your booth when I have completed my shopping to obtain more information. If you don’t do that, I will not come near this booth again and let others know how uncomfortable you made me feel.” Since you do not have ties to this individual and your relationship with them likely won’t suffer, this is a great low risk situation to practice Asserting, especially if you are uncomfortable with this particular Style.
Here is another potentially low risk situation: Your son or daughter is very upset after school. Oftentimes, kids do not want to talk about their day because they may feel as though their parents are “prying” into their lives. This is where you can practice the Bridging Style. Ask your children open-ended questions that encourage dialogue. If you ask them how they are doing and they answer simply with “fine,” disclose to them that you are at a loss as to how you can support them if you do not understand what is bothering them. Listen attentively if they start to talk. Give them your full attention. Put away your cell phone, shut off the television, and be present in the moment. This is probably one of the hardest things to do, especially with today’s technology constantly vying for your attention. You can hear the ‘ding’ of a text chiming from your cell phone across the room, or the beep of a new email in your inbox, and your impulse is naturally to reach over and grab your phone or tablet. DON’T DO IT!!! In order to bridge with someone effectively, you have to be able to actively listen to them and hear what they are saying so that you are able to ask the right questions to cultivate your relationship.
Practice this very important albeit often difficult to achieve activity in these or similar low risk situations, so that during your important meeting you will not have the Pavlovian response of instantly reaching for your phone at the first ring or chime you hear.
Following is an example of a perfect situation for practicing the Influence Style of Persuading. Your friends cannot decide on a place to eat and often the debate takes longer to come to a conclusion than the ride to get to the agreed upon restaurant. In order to persuade them to go to the restaurant of your choice, you make a suggestion and give a couple of reasons as to why you would like to go there. For instance: “I suggest that we go to the new restaurant in town that just opened last week. For one, none of us have ever been there and it would be a blast to try it out together as we can sample items from across the menu. Second, the menu itself has a wide variety to choose from, so everyone’s gastronomical needs and wants will be met.” Again, this is a low risk situation because if your friends do not agree with you, it will not cost you much in terms of your relationship, though your stomach may be growling for a little while longer as they continue to search for an agreement.
Here is another example: You and several of your local friends have agreed that each of you is in need of a mini “staycation” (this is your common ground). Nothing too fancy, but something that will give each of you a chance to relax away from work. Several suggestions have been made, but you cannot seem to agree. You can already picture how you want to spend this “staycation” and you use your Attracting skills to put images into words so that your friends can “see” their relaxing day unfold. You are already very excited about the idea and your enthusiastic energy is easily contagious. You start off with “can you imagine waking up without an alarm set and strolling down to the local beach with nothing but a beach blanket, sunscreen, and a good book in our bags. We could stop and order a nice refreshing drink at the local cafe just across the street and maybe a light appetizer or two. This will keep us satisfied for a few hours while we relax on the sand just listening to the waves, having light conversations, and reading our books. No distractions from work. No frantic calls on the cell phone saying that we are out of milk. No deadlines to meet or specific times we have to be anywhere. Can’t you just feel the breeze and the gentle warmth of the sun?” Again, if your friends disagree there is no real loss, though you may be slightly disappointed that you will not hear the lapping of the waves while you take an afternoon nap.
As you can see from the examples above, there are several times throughout the day, week, month, or year when you can practice your influence skills in low risk situations without fear of failure. If you do not successfully influence your colleagues, friends, family, or community members, that’s OK. You still learned something from your attempts and you will be better equipped and knowledgeable about how to handle a similar situation differently in the future.