People try to influence one another all the time and the results may be excellent, disastrous or somewhere in between. Despite this, we do not seem to have a technique for assessing whether a particular example of influencing behaviour deserves praise, indifference or criticism.
To help us out, I have created a new tool for assessing influencing behaviour and called it “PEA”. Given any situation where one person tries to influence another, an evaluation can be done by exploring the “PEA” issues: Power, Effect, Alternatives. The way to use this tool is to examine each direction in turn:
What power does the speaker have to influence the listener? What power does the listener have to resist the speaker’s ideas? For example, if a doctor tells a patient that urgent surgery is required, the doctor has considerable power to influence the patient because only he has the ability to interpret the test results The patient has little power to resist the suggestion (assuming there is no time to get a second opinion).
By contrast, if a salesman tries to convince a customer that she should buy a particular vacuum cleaner, the customer can ask for a demonstration, ask to see other models, go to another shop, read online reviews etc. The sales rep has some power of influence, but the customer has considerable power to resist such influence.
A three year old asking his mother for an ice-cream might be powerless until he learns to use “pester power”.
What effects will the attempt at persuasion have on the listener? There may be positive and negative effects. In the doctor’s example, the effects of emergency surgery might be very beneficial or very dangerous for the patient. These possibilities can be explored. The effect of buying a vacuum cleaner depends on how much it costs, how effective and reliable it is etc.
What alternatives has the influencer considered before trying to influence the receiver with one particular message?
What alternatives to emergency surgery did the doctor consider before making his recommendation?
What alternatives did the salesman consider before recommending a particular vacuum cleaner? Did the salesman ask the customer about her needs before suggesting a model? What alternatives arose from that?
What alternatives to did the three-year-old consider before demanding ice-cream?
Some readers may be disappointed that the PEA tool is not a scoring system that, say, rates influencing behaviour and outputs a numerical score. The reason is that the output from this tool is a set of insights that, depending on the skill of the thinker, produces a fuller picture than a raw number would.
It is important to work out whether the people who are trying to influence us are doing so for our benefit or for theirs (hopefully both). The PEA tool should assist those serious about answering that question.
21 Jan 2019