Influencer: The power to change anything!

Influence Methods for Resolving Challenging and Persistent Problems



What distinguishes the best from the good? Research indicates that the ability to manage conversations where there is clear disagreement around high stake issues and resulting strong emotions is one differentiator. The related skills associates with confronting gaps in performance in which there are either violated expectations, broken promises or bad behavior is a second. As an Affiliate of VitalSmarts, home of the two NY Times, Wall Street Journal Best Sellers - Crucial Conversations and Crucial Confrontations, I am excited to introduce you to the next in the series of NY Times Best Selling breakthrough leadership bibles: “Influencer - The Power To Change Anything”. The ability to marshal an ensemble of influence strategies to permanently affect a permanent change in your own behavior, or that of another is the third skill that sets the most effective individuals (10-15%) apart from the merely good (85-90%).


Soon after "Influencer: The power to change anything" book was released and enjoyed an immediate climb to the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Business Week Best Seller lists, I hosted co-author Ron McMillan for an Influencer LIVE event in Plano, Texas. In his opening remarks, Ron drew a hearty, albeit uncomfortable, laugh from the audience of business folks with his comment pertaining to persistent, nagging problems. I quote: “Your world is perfectly organized to create the behavior you’re currently experiencing!”.


Ron went on to say: “We live in a quick-fix world looking for “silver-bullet” answers to complex influence problems.” Challenging, persistent problems require solutions that draw insight from the multiple sources of influence that keep our less-preferred behaviors and results intact.



Think of a problem that you’re currently trying to solve but haven’t been able to.

As you select the problem, avoid the tendency to select a situation where merely persuading another person to make a different choice is all that’s required (ex. persuading a superior to approve funding for a new CRM expenditure). Instead select a situation where you need people to change long-standing behaviors that are kept in place by a variety of influential factors (ex. Influencing the entire spectrum of stakeholders to adopt and fully utilize the new CRM system).


In this first edition of our two-part series I will explore four of the eight considerations when creating an influence plan to create sustainable change. With your influence challenge in mind, answer the following categories of questions.

1. Isolating Vital Behaviors

When it comes to establishing an Influence Plan, to what degree do you:

  • Start by identifying the exact result you want to achieve, including how you’ll know—or even measure—whether or not you’re succeeding?
  • Resist jumping on the latest and hottest fad, but instead search for researchers and other credible individuals to find those who have already learned how to succeed under similar circumstances?
  • Identify the vital behaviors—the small number of behaviors that will lead to the greatest amount of change?
  • Fight the temptation to give up, instead finding the flaws in your strategy and making thoughtful adjustments.


2. Changing the Way You Change Minds

When it comes to getting others to change their minds to what extent do you:

  • Rely on persuasive conversation, presentations, memos, and talking points to help people see why they need to change?
  • Go beyond using verbal arguments with those who challenge you by engaging them with poignant and powerful stories that effectively engage their hearts and minds?
  • Shift from trying to convince others with arguments, and instead work hard to create experiences and simulations to help others see what behavior must change and why?
  • Help motivate others to change by helping them find experiences that build their confidence that changing their behavior will translate into the results they care deeply about.


3. Making the Undesirable Desirable

When it comes to motivating others to change do you consistently:

  • Go beyond offering up business arguments and help people see the moral imperatives behind the changes I’m asking them to make?
  • Strive to help people see the human and personal reasons changes are necessary?
  • Help others in the face of change to discover what they really want and how their goals fit with the required change?
  • Work to find ways to help people overcome their hesitancy by helping them experience firsthand the benefits and pleasures that the change potentially brings?
  • Partner with others in the face of daunting or unpleasant change to infuse elements of fun, competition, or excitement to the activity?


4. Surpassing Your Limits

When it comes to learning new or complex skills do you:

  • Give people guided practice and immediate feedback against a clear standard until you’re sure they can engage in the new behaviors in the toughest of circumstances?
  • Design practice and coaching sessions that are intense and focused, and that simulate the real-world challenges they’ll face when trying to change?
  • Help them break the challenge into mini goals and teach them how to deal with setbacks?
  • Avoid jumping to the conclusion that others simply lack motivation when they experience setbacks and generously offer training, coaching, and other enabling help?

With the following preliminary checklist of considerations you have begun your journey down the path of the most influential leaders around the globe. As Ron McMillan closed his presentation for Influencer LIVE he reminded the audience that; “Influencers succeed where the rest of us fail because they “over-determine” success. They marshal a critical mass of all sources of influence to make change inevitable.”


Be watching for Part II in this Bourke & Associates series!

When Conversations Become Crucial ... What You Say Next Matters


Organizational Culture Change – One Conversation at a Time


It was a hot and humid July afternoon in Houston, Texas and nearly 300 employees of a recently restructured convention complex were gathered in one of the spaces typically reserved for clients to hear an address from Phillip, the incoming COO. The Phillip was not new to the world of facilities management nor was he a novice when it came to organizational “turnarounds.” He was, however, new to this particular facility. For the week preceding his arrival the buzz around the corridors was that the COO was planning on taking names and cleaning house.

As Phillip offered his rote, yet cordial, welcome to the employees, he couldn’t help but recall the warnings that he had been given about this facility - the entitlement attitude that was rampant throughout most all departments with employees constantly “stretching” policies, abusing company privileges and at the same time requesting added benefits and perks.

As he moved past his opening comments and began to talk about some of the change initiatives that he was considering a hand in the crowd shot up accompanied by a resounding, “Phil! Can I call you Phil? How old are you anyway? You can’t be over twenty-nine. Look, I’m old enough to be your mother. Can I give you some advice? Before you go about sweeping-up all of us renegade employees, cleaning house, department-by-department, and beefing-up the HR police squad, I suggest you slow down and get the lay–of-the-land.” Phillip gripped the podium and stiffened his spine. He had never been publicly confronted by an employee with such disregard for common courtesy and respect.  He cleared his throat, raised a finger into the air, and, after a brief pause, began to speak.

What You Say Next, Matters!

In the blink of an eye, what was supposed to be an executive address to a room full of eager employees was suddenly escalated to a Crucial Conversation. When emotions run deep, adrenalin is flowing around differences of opinion and the stakes are high, what you say next can mean the difference between success and failure. How people habitually handle Crucial Conversations is one of the most reliable predictors of organizational effectiveness and, conversely, organizational disaster.  The situation cited above is a case in point. In situations like this, leaders have a choice to either talk it out or act it out.

"How people habitually handle Crucial Conversations is one of the most reliable predictors of organizational effectiveness and, conversely, organizational disaster."

Phillip’s situation didn’t just happen with the utterance of this employee’s question. The foundation for this exchange was laid well in advance. When you reflect on your own life, isn't it true that your world is perfectly organized to yield the results that you're currently experiencing? This same dynamic had been witnessed by dozens, even hundreds, who, over time, had noticed occasions where employees and supervisors acted out their frustrations rather than talk them out respectfully. They watched and even benignly participated but said nothing. Why? Silence in the face of potentially sensitive situations - conversations in which the stakes are high, emotions run strong, and there are sharply opposing viewpoints is typically the path of least resistance in any organization. Unless leaders go to extraordinary lengths and exercise great skill to counter the overwhelming tendency for people to remain silent - disaster is inevitable. The sad truth is that these consequences predictable. The redeeming truth is that they are avoidable as well.

"...your world is perfectly organized to yield the results that you're currently experiencing!"

Effective leaders learn from the myriad of Crucial Conversations that they and others are not having, (or not having well) and consciously connect the dots between these Crucial Conversations and the desired results. Mastering these skills is akin to reclaiming the professional real estate required for success. Every time we make the choice to act out our concerns by choosing silence (withdrawing, avoiding, sugar-coating) or violence (labeling, controlling or attacking) without talking about our concerns openly yet respectfully, we cordon-off yet another piece of turf in which our influence is limited or non-existent.

"Mastering crucial conversation skills is akin to reclaiming the professional real estate required for success."

Prior to Phillip's employee address, I was called to offer some brief phone coaching to help prepare for what was predicted to be a hostile reception. The majority of our 90 minute coaching session (at least one hour) was spent focusing on the COO – not his speech. Although a well crafted and artfully delivered speech can be inspiring and leveraging – no speech has the power to serve up the sustainable influence that candid and respectful dialogue yields.

What follows is a series of questions that we used to guide the COO’s preparation for his company-wide address and a brief version of his responses.  Witness what happens the moment Phillip realized his address became a Crucial Conversation.

Q: What do you really want from this interaction with these employees? What do you really want for you? For the workforce? For the long-term relationship between you and them?

Phillip’s immediate answer to this three-part question was, “I want these employees to understand that I mean business and that we are not running a country club around here. I am an honest but straight shooter. I expect the same from them.”

I paraphrased his comments by suggesting that Phillip really wanted some affirmation from the employees that his intentions were to do what was best for the company and that he wanted mutual accountability and respect. He also agreed that he also wanted to candidly share his concerns without having to water-down his message. Over the long-term Phillip also wanted mutual trust with employees and the associated comfort of speaking honestly about tough issues.

Q: What judgments or opinions are you holding on to that might make it easier for you to see yourself or others as villains, victims or helpless accomplices?

This question takes direct aim at the hardened attitudes that accompany our sellouts and biased stories. Research indicates that once a set of facts is forged into an opinion evaluation or judgment the associated feelings and behaviors immediately follow. The problem is that when we are in a reactive situation we tend to craft stories that generate emotions and behaviors that move us away from what we really want for ourselves, others and the vitality of the relationships. It’s not hard to imagine that Phillip saw the employees much like a bunch of juveniles who were in need of a healthy dose of regimentation and structure. In lockstep with this story Phillip, naturally would take on the role of the drill sergeant. What else could he do?

Q: What role are you playing in this problem that you are pretending not to notice?

Phillip recognized that he was clearly biased by the consultant’s report that had diagnosed the workforce problems that he had just inherited. He realized that he was placing a lot of stock in these assessments without challenging them. He had not yet acknowledged that an alternative interpretation might reveal a void in executive leadership as a contributing factor.

With these questions and responses in hand let’s return to the podium with Phillip to hear his response.

As Phillip cleared his throat, raised a finger into the air and began to speak I watched from the back of the room with anticipation. What I saw left me awestruck. Phillip lowered his finger, put his notes away, and proceeded, “Well, to be perfectly frank, I have mixed feelings. On one hand I am disturbed because I have never been publicly challenged by an employee in a way that I find so disrespectful and condescending! I was tempted not to honor your comment with a response.” Phillip paused and took a long swig from his water glass. He glanced over the crowd and began nodding his head up and down, as if to concede a point. He continued, “On the other hand, I suspect that if you have the nerve to say what you just said – knowing that I hold the fate of your job in my hand – you must have some pretty serious concerns that I would do well to understand. I am guessing that there might be other similar concerns among this crowd as well.”

"I have never been publicly challenged by an employee in a way that I find so disrespectful and condescending!"

Remembering what he really wanted, he continued. “Let me see if I get it. You worry that I might not have the age or experience under my belt to effectively manage some of the issues that we face around here?” The employee nodded in affirmation. He went on to say, “You suspect that I might make the mistake of listening to some consultant’s advice on what to do around here without first considering the thoughts and ideas of people like you and others who have a lot of time and experience invested in this place? I also wonder if you believe that as I look out from over this podium I see a room full of problems as opposed to a room full of answers. Am I close?”

The room began to come alive as employees enjoyed some of the safety that Phillip had just created by tapping into what he really wanted most. Playing off the energy in the room, Phillip asked that the employees take a few minutes in small groups to select other issues that they would like to hear comment on. He basically said, “I share your concerns. I am not interested in shooting from the hip without the optimal experience behind all decisions. I too believe that making sweeping changes with only one viewpoint in hand is a liability. I also value the experience that is in this room. We will not have the time today to answer all of your questions. We can gather them with your help in small groups right now. I will address the first issue and schedule time to visit with you again in the next two weeks.”

Phillip had taken the higher road of dismantling his stories long enough to capture what he really wanted most for those in the room - mutual trust with employees and the associated comfort of speaking honestly about tough issues.

Then, suddenly and almost as an afterthought, Phillip interrupted the employees in their small groups to add, “One other thing to that employee with the original question. If you ever speak to me that way again, publicly or privately – or I to you – or any of us to anyone within a five-mile radius of this facility it will be grounds for a conversation, write-up, or probation. Now that we know that we can be direct with our concerns with full respect – let’s commit to doing just that. Do we have a deal?”

The employees voted with heartened applause.

Those organizations that succeed in holding Crucial Conversations and holding them well will not only find that they can generally avoid failure, but that they will also reap enormous boosts in performance—a result that will be unequivocally positive for all of the organizations’ key stakeholders, from the most senior board member to the most junior employee.

Blog — Bourke & Associates

I Hate Email, Voicemail and Every Other Form of Digital Excuse!
Why Face-to-Face Communication Is Essential for Effective Crucial Confrontations

Today’s communication technology offers an astounding array of tools to remain connected across time and space. But when it comes to resolving broken promises, violated expectations or bad behavior, resorting to hi-tech methods (e-mailing, text messaging, instant messaging, blogging) can amplify our problems -- especially when confronting a peer, manager or subordinate at work.

According to a VitalSmarts survey, more than 87% of those polled admit using hi-tech means to resolve a workplace confrontation. A full 89% add that e-mail, text messaging, and voice mail are not typically effective more often get in the way of good workplace relationships.

When you “type it out” instead of “talking it out” you are more likely to end up “acting it out”. Survey respondents cited convenience as a main reason for using hi-tech means when confronting a co-worker or subordinate.

What to do? Remember before pushing the “send” button to focus on what you really want for you, the other parties involved and the long-term vitality of the key relationships. Use face-to-face interaction when the relationship might be compromised. Next, choose the right confrontation with the right audience. Use CPR (Content, Pattern, Relationship) to help you decide! If it is a first time occurrence hold a Content-level conversation that deals with getting your curious questions answered. If this represents a recurring issue perhaps you have identified a Pattern that concerns you. If this pattern has resulted in a deterioration of trust that affects the way you work with this person hold a Relationship –level conversation

Analyze this! What follows are excerpts from an actual email exchange between two senior level managers (one in business development and the other in finance). The basic issue centers around a questionable expense statement. Can you identify at least three things that went wrong?

From: Jack (Director of Finance)

To: Karla (Director of Business Development)


Karla: I got your expense report with a $500 charge for "Cell phone charges for Jan-May 2015”. On the report was a note that there was a "deal" that you are entitled to $100/month for cell phone usage without any receipts being required. I've asked both our CEO and HR Director if they were aware of any “deal” - and both said they were not. Toward that end, without prior approval, we are going to have to deny these charges. In addition, especially with all of the inexpensive call plans that are out there, $100/month for someone who doesn't travel that much seems excessive.

 As a member of management, I know you are aware of how important it is that we all follow policy.  As a result, I'm going to be sending this report back to you, and ask that you either document the cell phone usage (and approval) - or take it off of the report.

 If you have any questions, please let me know.


What went wrong here? To begin to answer that question place yourself in Karla’s shoes and place a check everywhere you would tend to become defensive. The phrases you have checked likely represent places where you tended to doubt that Jack had your best intentions at heart.

Suggestion #1: So, instead of going to the CEO and HR Director first, Jack could have first had a content-level conversation with Karla to get his questions answered. He could have then engaged Karla’s cooperation and trust in clarifying the alleged agreement with the CEO or HR Director (whoever offered Karla the policy exception).

Suggestion #2: When sharing information that you suspect will stir a defensive reaction you can minimize defensiveness by asking for permission and then stating your positive intent up-front. In Jack’s face-to-face conversation it might sound like this: “Karla, I have a question about an agreement that you referenced on your recent expense statement around cell phone usage. Do you have a moment? I want to make sure that we promptly get you reimbursed and follow protocol on honoring policy variations. Please know that I am not questioning what you were told – instead I want to make sure that what you were told is something that you can count on with certainty as you manage your monthly budget.”

Suggestion #3: Master your ugly stories before taking action (virtually or in person). Do you get the sense that Jack had already held court in his head and judged Karla as less than professional, extravagant and presumptuous? Do you think Karla could read these potential sentiments between-the-lines?

Let’s see Karla’s response to Jack’s email to see how you did in diagnosing the hot-spots.

From: Karla (Director of Business Development)

To: Jack (Director of Finance)

Jack: Why would you ask the CEO and HR Director before you asked me?  You probably have the entire travel policy available to append to your rejection notices; however, it's not necessary to send terms and conditions to me. I am not policy-dumb! I expect these charges to be reimbursed! Is that clear? Furthermore whether I travel outside the metroplex area or not is not relevant to this discussion/arrangement. Local calls and long distance are all charged at the same fee structure. I don’t appreciate your judgmental appraisal of what my job should or shouldn’t entail!

By the way, I have inherited Paul's old phone and have no idea what the calling plan offers.  You gave me the phone because you were too cheap to provide me with a new one – remember?

Finally, please do not lecture me on my responsibilities to management.  Question me?  Yes!  Challenge me?  Yes!  Argue with me?  Yes!  Teach me?  Yes!  Help me?  Yes.  Lecture me? Please, no! So Jack, when may I expect the reimbursement?


Director of Business Development

From Hand-Helds to Hand-Holding - For those of you not ready to be weaned from your hand-held devices for such crucial confrontations here are a few tips:

1.   Attempt to minimize use of e-communication for initiating or continuing discussions around important issues

2.   Try using e-communication for clarifying or documenting existing agreements or understandings

3.   Use e-communication for scheduling appointments to talk about important concerns face-to-face

Please share you email nightmares and success stories with us!