Selection of blog posts from 2011-2015


Cialdin’s Weapons of Influence used on me in South Africa

I'm over it now, the dinted pride. Whatever Professor Robert Cialdini has taught about the psychology of influence, Ronnie of the Klein Karoo never needed to learn.

On Route 62 across the Klein Karoo in sunny South Africa, there's a road-house café that used to be called Ronnie's Shop until his friends had some fun with a paint brush one night. Humorously renamed 'Ronnie's Sex Shop', it now features in the guidebooks and Ronnie is famous. He sells drinks and meals to people driving long distance along that road. The bar is decorated with donated underwear.

As I sat down, Ronnie appeared and said “Hi babe!”. I looked up into a smiling face with twinkling eyes. The dude has a long ponytail and a confident, easy manner (Cialdini 1 = liking). He asked me some questions, showed me some leaflets and after a few minutes’ worth of helpful tourist information, he suggested that I take a look in his shop when I was ready (Cialdini 2 = reciprocity). A few minutes later, as I finished off my coffee, he reminded me that I'd agreed to do that before I left (Cialdini 3 = commitment and consistency). So I went into the souvenir shop and saw piles of T-shirts and aprons decorated with a highly colourful picture of the place. "They're not available anywhere else!" said Ronnie, (Cialdini 4 = scarcity) "Lots of visitors take one home to remember their holiday in S.A." (Cialdini 5 = social proof). I picked up an apron and tried it on - it was too big for me and my husband looked unimpressed. Nonetheless, I had already decided to buy it.

"How much?" I asked. 180 Rand. Almost £18! "Pardon?" I said. "180 Rand," said Ronnie firmly, looking down at me from behind the till. (Finally, Cialdini 6 = authority). I handed over the cash, took the apron and hurried back to the car. I felt confused... bad.... why? I sat puzzling while my husband drove us away from Ronnie's. Then it started to dawn on me: I'd been what Prof. Cialdini calls a 'patsy'. He writes, "Click and the tape is activated, whirr and out rolls the standard sequence of behaviours." The reasons why people comply have been studied by psychologists, and Cialdini calls humans' automatic behaviour triggers the 'Weapons of Influence'. My defences had been down and in a beautiful and relaxed spot I'd happily allowed myself to be on the receiving end of each 'Weapon', skilfully wielded by the grinning Ronnie.

A few favourite quotes

Wisdom denotes the pursuing of the best ends by the best means. (Frances Hutcheson)

Leadership is communicating to people their worth and potential so clearly that they come to see it in themselves. (Stephen R. Covey)

Leadership is creating an environment in which people want to be part of the organisation and not just work for the organisation. Leadership creates an environment that makes people want to, rather than have to, do. It is a business imperative to create that environment. (Horst Schulze, former CEO Ritz-Carlton)

Give the world the best you have and you may get hurt. Few of us can do great things, but all of us can do small things with great love. (Mother Teresa)

There is only one success, to be able to spend your life in your own way.

Ski Cross and pitching

I am not a fan of extended analogies between sport and business. Sport is quite simple; business is complex. But consider ski cross, which is compelling viewing from the Winter Olympics, and reflect on how it compares with what happens when we are competing in a high-stakes pitch for a new client.

Like in a competitive tender, there are multiple competitors going for it at the same time. You're not allowed to 'interfere' but you can defend your line. Crashes and falls are frequent; sometimes just surviving the race is enough to win it. As in business.

The course is daunting. It's steep, twisty and full of huge jumps, banks, moguls... about 25% of the time is spent in the air. Doing whatever it takes and hoping, presumably, not to crash-land with ignominy or worse. Few business people would admit to being out of control and terrified, but I have seen many pitches that send that message to the audience.

Four competitors leap from the start at the same time and there are often immediate problems just getting over the first obstacle, a huge double wall. That's the equivalent of completing a massive RFP with an impossible deadline.

The pace is fast and requires intense focus to seize every tiny opportunity, to be aware of who is close by, to choose and maintain the best line, to control every take-off, landing and corner. Similar mental energy with a clear strategy, an understanding of the competition and the ability to use winning tactics are equally essential to a successful business pitch.

The analogy can go further - to the importance of training and rehearsal, the right mindset, the value of a good back-up team etc. My final thought as I turned off the TV and left the racers to their glorious moments of victory in front of the cheering crowds: you go back to the low-profile stuff tomorrow and the thrills are over - until the next time!



I walk down the street

There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.

I fall in

I am lost... I am helpless

It isn't my fault.

It takes forever to find a way out.


I walk down the same street.

There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.

I pretend I don't see it

I fall in again

I can't believe I'm in the same place

But, it isn't my fault.

It still takes a long time to get out.


I walk down the same street.

There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.

I see it is there.

I still fall in... it's a habit.

I know where I am.

It is my fault.

I get out immediately.


I walk down the same street.

There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.

I walk around it.


I walk down another street.

‘Do one thing every day that scares you’.

Courage goes by many names, and it can be hard to tell when it is present. We feel scared not brave, then we act and later realise that it took courage to do what we did. Courage moves us forwards in spite of our fear; when we want to back out or call in sick, it's our courage that makes us step into the room or onto the stage and go through with the thing we must do. Eleanor Roosevelt's quotation tells us to practice being fearful every day so that we build our courage a little bit more every day.

Fear is like a troublesome flat-mate, who bothers you at awkward moments. A flat-mate who tries to manipulate you to do what they want, how they want - even though it's your flat! To gain control and ensure harmony, you first need to know and understand the fear then create the rules that you will both adhere to. Being confident is perhaps more about knowing yourself and knowing how to use all of your resources, both courage and fear alike.

Listening is the highest form of hospitality

Not only can listening be seen as a gift of your time and effort but as Henri Nouwen said, it is the highest form of hospitality. So how could we become more generous listeners, and benefit others as well as ourselves?

There are seven skills to practice:

Be clear on your own motivations in listening. What are you listening for? To find something out, to build the relationship, to analyse or evaluate, or to support? Your objective determines the way you listen.

2. Understand the goals and intentions of the speaker. What we think the speaker is trying to say impacts on how effectively we make meaning from their messages.

Is it your intention to hear or to respond? We often believe we have the solution to a problem we are listening to and cannot resist the urge to jump in with our fix. Your desire to ‘add value’ may have the opposite effect if it suggests that your speaking is more important than their speaking.

4. Use Acknowledgement. In consultative-type conversations (e.g. coaching, selling), think about the cycle of Question – Response – Acknowledgement. If you receive a response to your question which is not congruent, the acknowledgement serves to re-focus. (The person asking the question is managing the conversation). If the response is congruent, your acknowledgement demonstrates that you are listening.

Be mindful of where your attention is and be aware if it lapses. If the topic is dull, find an interesting aspect for yourself. If the speaking is dull, focus on the content not the delivery. We speak at around 180 words per minute but our brain can process up to five times faster, so use that spare capacity to think about the ideas in what you are hearing and work hard to resist distractions.

Exercise your listening muscles, as you would any other part of your body. When you are listening to the garbled verbal equivalent of minestrone soup, try taking notes, listen for structure, identify the themes or chunk information into logical groupings.

7. Don’t under-estimate the power of repetition, summary and paraphrase. Not only do these skills help you remember and show you have listened, but they also allow for the speaker to reflect on what they said and to gain the benefits of really listening to themselves.

By the way, skills of ‘active listening’ can be easy to fake e.g. posture, eye contact, nodding and hmm-ing, so be aware that the speaker can detect, at some level, your underlying lack of sincerity.

More on Listening: the qualities cultivated by great listeners

The qualities of a good listener, according to social scientist Robert Carkhuff, include:

1.      Respect – if you do not admit the uniqueness and worth of the speaker, this is a big barrier to listening. If you find you cannot easily respect the person, try instead to respect their role, or their goal.

2.      Being genuine – don’t withhold yourself from the interaction even if your role is to share less and listen more. Humans can be recorded by a machine, but not listened to by one.

3.      Empathy – imagine what the other person thinks and feels. This could be very different from what you might think and feel, and your efforts to avoid assumption will help create understanding.

4.      Concreteness – don’t let the dialogue become abstract or impersonal ; get specific. Ask for examples, challenge generalisations and ask for the evidence behind assertions.

5.      Confrontation – the magic blend of challenge with support, to engender honesty and awareness. This is the ability to have someone take off their rose-tinted specs and look at themselves straight in the mirror you're holding up for them.

6.      Immediacy – clarify and take responsibility for what arises in the moment between speaker and listener. Cast light into the conversation, don’t talk in the shadows. Tell them how you feel as you listen to their story, or what you think now or want now. Listening is just one half of a dialogue.