I’m hoping to be able to offer something substantial after I complete this project. But I’ve decided to try to share early thoughts that occur to me as it progresses too. These will be work-in-progress dumps of an idea. I’ll probably usually play with a metaphor that might suggest a set of behaviours or strategies. I’ll usually write them on a train – so they will be riddled with mistakes and sentences like this one which are demonstrably too long and feature unnecessary¬†words. I encourage comments. Here is the first.

A stickman at the top of a hill with a target at the bottom

When building influence we sometimes talk about ‘finding common ground’. I wonder whether exploring this spatial metaphor of consensus-building might suggest tips to build agreement or exert influence.

One of the ways I’ve talked about influence in the past is managing levels of cost and motivation. In interaction design I sometimes ask myself are there ways that I can either:

  1. Reduce the complexity of the task – or the perceived cost of completing an action
  2. Increase the perceived value or the motivation.

I’m wondering whether that idea might be applied to the ‘common ground’ metaphor of influence and persuasion. Could we think about the geography of the ‘common ground’ in ways which suggest strategies to make influence more likely and effective.

Influence is dependent on relationships. I like building relationships – despite what the following sentence might suggest. I think of building a relationships as being like pushing a boulder up a hill*. This metaphor plays with the ideas of gravity as a constant force you can either push against or exploit. It also introduces the idea of stored up kinetic energy.

When I’m trying to influence someone I sometimes make a list (mental or on paper) of all the “forces” that would pull the person closer to common ground, my target, where I need them to be. I need people to see my target and hopefully move towards it with me.

So I wonder whether ‘placing my target at the bottom of a hill’ might allow me to exploit gravity and make it easier to convince them. I think this might just be a re-telling of my ‘reduce cost’ and ‘increase motivation’ equation. But the metaphor also reinforces the importance of relationships.

The ‘boulder pushing’ (or the storing up of energy or credit in a relationship) ensures that the other party is in the best position to see the target. Maybe it’s not a hill – maybe it’s a staircase or trust? Or a pyramid of common language. Whatever it is – the ‘raised position’ means they can move towards my/our target assisted by the ‘gravity’ invested in the relationship.

The gravity or elevation is the effort you’ve invested – I think it’s usually stored up trust. There might be other investments you’ve made that encourage reciprocity. I think the point is, you’ve manufactured the environment to increase the chances of two things.

  1. The other party must have a clear view and appreciation of your target – their elevated position isn’t to do with power or authority in the relationship – it has to do with perception and comprehension.
  2. You’ve found some forces that encourage movement towards the common ground.

Practical points:

  • Investing in relationships stores up energy in them.
  • People can’t agree if they don’t know what you want – they must be able to “see the target”.
  • Make an audit of all the forces in play that might stand in the way of moving to the target. This ‘accusation audit’ allows you to overcome and remove barriers.

* I don’t. It just struck me as being a useful and funny sentence.