A funny thing happened to me at the airport the other day. 

As I’m sitting at the terminal waiting for my flight, a man approaches me and introduces himself. I don’t know what made him want to do this, but he immediately started talking to me about politics.  

It didn’t take long for him to share his disdain for the other side of the aisle – and he didn’t have any shame when I told him I happened to be one of “those” people who disagreed with him. 

He proceeded to tell me all about how I was wrong, why I was less intelligent, how I was the problem in our country, and so forth. I’m sure you know the type! 

I stayed calm and told myself I was going to try to understand him. I wanted to understand why he believed these things and where his thoughts and feelings were coming from. 

So I asked him a few basic questions… 

Why is that important to you? 

Where did you learn that? 

What evidence supports that belief? 

Who do you personally know that has experienced that? 

And so forth. 

We talked for about 20 minutes. I kept asking neutral questions – not judging, just trying to understand his beliefs. Over the course of our conversation, I could really sense that he was letting his guard down and softening his perspective. 

Right before my flight landed, he looked me in the eye and said “you people really aren’t the animals I thought you would be. Maybe it’s time to ask these questions of those I hang out with.” 

I shook his hand and wished him success. As I walked away, I noticed he was beginning to cry right there in the airport. 

Influence Without a Connection is Manipulation 

I’m sharing this story not because it’s about politics, but because it holds an important lesson about influence. As a leader and a recruiter, I’ve spent the better part of my career trying to influence others.  

I’ve worked hard to influence candidates to consider another position – and to take the position when it’s a good fit. I’ve influenced hiring managers to reconsider their needs and focus on the most important aspects of a position (rather than getting bogged down in unnecessary job requirements). And I’ve influenced my team members to adjust their approach when necessary to deliver better results. 

But a key part of this process is truly understanding who we are influencing. We need to understand their motivations, why they behave the way they do, why they believe the things they do, why they care about what they do, and so forth.  

If we rush to correct their behavior or change their opinions before understanding them as people, that’s just manipulation. We’re only in it for our own gain – and the other person will sense that. It’s self-serving and ineffective. 

We all influence others somehow or another every day. Next time you try to change someone’s mind or sway their opinion, ask yourself: do I really have a connection with them? Do I really understand them? 

Taking the time to forge that connection can make a world of difference – crying not required. 

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