May 19, 2022

160 How to Ethically Use the Principles of Influence to Lead Your Team with Brian Ahearn | Partnering Leadership Global Thought Leader

160 How to Ethically Use the Principles of Influence to Lead Your Team with Brian Ahearn | Partnering Leadership Global Thought Leader

In this episode of Partnering Leadership, Mahan Tavakoli speaks with Brian Ahearn, keynote speaker, trainer, coach, consultant, and author of  Influence People: Powerful Everyday Opportunities to Persuade that are Lasting and Ethical, and The Influencer: Secrets to Success and Happiness. Brian Ahearn goes through the principles of influence, reciprocity, consistency, social proof, authority, liking, and scarcity. He also shares examples of applying the principles at work and in organizational leadership. 

Some highlights:

-Brian Ahearn on the science and ethics behind the influence principles

-How leaders can apply the principles in leading teams and organizations 

-The role the principles can play in deepening team relationships 

-Brian Ahearn on how leaders can overcome unity challenges in a hybrid work environment

-The principles leaders can apply during times of uncertainty and how to motivate action

-How to use questions to encourage engagement among team members

-What leaders must do to establish a new culture in their organizations


- Robert Cialdini, author of Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, and president of Influence at Work

- Trond Undheim (Listen to the Partnering Leadership conversation with Trond Undheim)

- Azeem Azhar (Listen to the Partnering Leadership conversation with Azeem Azhar)


Connect with Brian Ahearn:

Influence PEOPLE Website

Influence PEOPLE on Amazon

The Influencer: Secrets to Success and Happiness on Amazon

Brian Ahearn on Facebook

Brian Ahearn on Twitter

Brian Ahearn on LinkedIn

Connect with Mahan Tavakoli:


More information and resources available at the Partnering Leadership Podcast website:


Mahan Tavakoli 

Welcome to Partnering Leadership. I'm really excited to be welcoming Brian Ahearn. Brian is the chief influence officer at Influence People. He is a dynamic keynote speaker, trainer, coach, and consultant. He's an author and his first book, Influence People: Powerful Everyday Opportunities to Persuade that are Lasting and Ethical, was named one of the top 100 influence books of all time by book authority. And his most recent book is The Influencer: Secrets to Success and Happiness

I really enjoyed a conversation with Brian because Brian takes a framework that he applies based on the Cialdini method, which he is certified in, to influence at work. And we all can become more effective leaders to understanding influence principles. Most especially, doing it as Brian also underlines with the highest ethics. When we want to win people to our way of thinking in our organizations, we need to influence and to a certain extent. Leadership is all about ethical influence, which is why I really enjoy this conversation. 

There is so much to learn from Brian, with respect to how we can become more influential. I'm sure you will really enjoy the conversation too. I also love hearing from you. Keep your comments coming, There's a microphone icon on Really enjoyed those voice messages. Don't forget to follow the podcast, Tuesday conversations with magnificent changemakers from the Greater Washington DC DMV region, and Thursday conversations with brilliant global thought leaders like Brian Ahearn. 

Now here's my conversation with Brian.

Mahan Tavakoli

Brian Ahearn, welcome to Partnering Leadership. I'm thrilled to have you in this conversation with me.

Brian Ahearn:

 I am excited to do it too, Mahan and it's nice to see you again.

Mahan Tavakoli 

It is really great to see you, Brian and I have followed your work for a few years now, and what I fell in love with when I first heard you on a podcast, then read your book, Influence People: Powerful Everyday Opportunities to Persuade that are Lasting and Ethical. Was your focus on ethics? I had been familiar with Cialdini's work, but you also built on that, made it much more applicable. But before we get to some of your thoughts Brian, would love to know whereabouts you grow up and how your upbringing impacted the kind of person you've become.


Okay, well I grew up all over the place. I was born in Honolulu, Hawaii. I lived in several spots in New York, several spots in California, Connecticut, ultimately, Ohio. And all of that happened by the time I was a teenager. So I was used to going to different schools every year until I hit about middle school. And I think made me a little more outgoing and receptive to making friends. And I got a lot of wonderful experiences because of it and living in such diverse places.

Mahan Tavakoli: 

You were able to connect with a lot of different people early on. I understand that you also played football and got really into weightlifting and bodybuilding early on in life.

Brian Ahearn 

I did in high school, I played football like many people my age did and I got into weightlifting at that time. And I really fell in love with weightlifting because my body took to it well. I just grew really fast when I started working out and you know, when you're a teenager and people started looking at you like wow, it's it feeds your ego. 

And when I went off to college, I was the President of the Miami University Weightlifting club for three years. Competed in powerlifting. Really thought my destiny was going to be to own a gym. And when I graduated, I was competing in bodybuilding, and I loved it. And what I learned about myself was I actually, love training. I love to have the goal. I love the whole process. And the goal for me whether it was, eventually I got into running was always a reason to do what I loved with more intensity and that's a good way to live every day intensely doing what you love

Mahan Tavakoli: 

You're modest, Brian, you say eventually you got into running. I don't think there are too many weightlifters and bodybuilders that later on in life, make it to the Boston marathon.

Brian Ahearn 

I always tell people everything about the Boston Marathon was great except for the marathon because I was thrown up by the end. It was brutal that day. It was in the 80s and that's if you've ever gone out and run any distance when it's in the 70s or 80s that is not comfortable as a runner. But I love the experience and I was so I'm so proud that I did that because that is such a milestone for, you know, to tell my kids and eventually my grandkids like, hey, you know, Grandpa ran in the Boston Marathon

Mahan Tavakoli

You did all of that. You were successful in insurance sales. How did you come to Robert Cialdini's work?

Brian Ahearn 

I bumped into it. A coworker gave a video to my boss and I, at the time. And I was involved with sales training at the insurance company. This goes back to the early 2000s. And when I watched the video, the light bulb came on because I recognized it right away. The psychology that he's talking about is the underpinning of all sales.

It's why some approaches work and why some don't. I was intrigued by that. I love the fact that it was based on science. I really felt like I could confidently get behind this. And I also appreciated his stance on ethics. I consider myself a moral person and I thought we need to do this the right way.

I got in touch with Cialdini because I was using that video, which came from Stanford. I signed up for Stanford's marketing. And one day one of their marketing flyers comes across my desk and there's Cialdini's picture. And in bold letters above it, it says bestseller, and right underneath that in bold letters, call it influence, persuasion, or even manipulation. I can't believe they actually use that word because he's so clear. He talks about non-manipulative ways. That moral part of me felt like this needs to be addressed. I emailed Stanford and my email basically said, I don't know anybody who wants to be manipulated.

And I don't know anybody who is looking to become a good manipulator. That one word can not be helping your sales, but it's probably really hurting. And I never heard from Stanford, Mahan, but at some point someone from Robert Cialdini's office called my office to thank me on his behalf, we had this nice conversation.

She said, Hey if your company ever needs a guest speaker, he travels the world and talks about this. And I said, oh, I sit next to the woman who plans our events and books, our speakers, you want to talk to her. And as fate would have it, it was the summer of 2004. He was in Columbus, Ohio several times to address the insurance agents that represented the company. And that was the start of my relationship with him.

Mahan Tavakoli 

That is a great origin story because it's based on, not just the science of influence, but the ethics that goes along with it, Brian. For many years of my life, I spent time at Dale Carnegie training, different roles. At some point, you also got involved a little bit with Dale Carnegie. And sometimes people would say the principles are used to influence and manipulate. And the point I had to make to them is if you use the principles without the sincerity and the genuineness that is part of the entire book, whether it is using the person's name or smiling or trying to see things from the other person's perspective. If you don't have that sincerity, yes, that's manipulation, but that's not the intention the intention matters when you use the principles, whether it is and how to win friends and influence people, or it's the principles of influence that Cialdini researched.


Absolutely. It makes a huge difference. I've never used this example before, but something triggered in my mind as you were talking. Two people can walk into a store and both people can walk out with something. One person can steal it one person pays for it when you pay for that's an ethical transaction when you steal it, it's not.

And typically, when we talk about, what makes us an approach ethical, one of the three things that's a must is whatever you're offering, proposing asking if somebody else has to be in their best interest, not just you. It's okay that you get something out of the transaction, but it can't be just about you. We are trying to do right by people when we're interacting with them and these principles can allow us to do a better job of that. 

The other two things that are musts are first is truthfulness. We always tell the truth and we never hide the truth. If I know that something might materially impact your decision and I withhold that. And you find out afterward, you will never look at me as an ethical individual again. But I learned through influence that even with shortcomings or a weakness in my case, I can put that on the table and gain credibility with you as an honest individual, because I bring it up before you do. We always tell the truth. 

And then we only use these principles that are naturally available in the situations. And if we can do those three things, tell the truth, use the principles naturally and make sure that we're offering a mutually beneficial win-win. We can feel good about ourselves that we're doing right by people.

Mahan Tavakoli 

It is doing right by people. And if we truly believe in how we are leading ourselves, our teams, our organizations, and that we are headed in the right direction, not using the principles is to a certain extent. Leaving the opportunity on the table. It is up to us as leaders to use the most effective persuasion principles as we want to guide our organizations toward purpose, have an impact for the employees, the stakeholders. If we believe what we are doing is the right thing, we should be using the principles to apply toward that end.


That's a great point. I think when you believe that what you're offering is going to make that individual, that organization better off, you need to understand to the best of your ability. How can I convey that message? Because if they don't go with what I think, then they're going to be worse off. And we don't want somebody to look back and go, gosh, I wish she would have been able to tell me more about this, whatever it is that we're offering. I wish that I would've known that we don't want to find ourselves in that position. We sometimes talk about in our workshops. A bungler of influence, somebody who just blows it because they don't understand how people think and behave.

Mahan Tavakoli 

As a parent, Brian, the way I think about it is that I should understand the principles of influence to influence my girls, to study harder, and to do their work because I know it is the positive thing and the right thing for them. There is nothing wrong with using rules of influence to that end. If anything, as a loving parent, I should understand the principles in order to guide them in that right direction.


Absolutely. As a parent, there are many things that we know our kids would like at the moment, but long-term won't be good for them. That's why we don't let them eat candy for breakfast and many other things like that, because we know that it will harm them in the long run. This isn't always about getting somebody to do what they necessarily want because we are in a different position as a parent and understanding the longevity of life and what people need. And those who are raised in that way, tend to look back and say thank you, for doing those things. I didn't like it in the moment, but it was really for my best benefit. And especially when they become parents, they start understanding it.

Mahan Tavakoli 

Part of what you say, Brian, is that persuasion is not only about changing minds and hearts. We hear a lot about leaders needing to change minds and hearts, and that's a part of it. But you say persuasion as much more than that.


My favorite definition of persuasion in all the years that I've studied, it comes from Aristotle. And Aristotle said the persuasion was the art of getting somebody to do something. That they wouldn't ordinarily do if you didn't ask. And if you really contemplate that for a moment, it's a great definition. Getting somebody to do something that they won't do in the absence of your communication. 

Now, sometimes, we don't have to change how they think about something because we just need them to do something. But if we can change how they think about something, that can sometimes, produce a lasting impact because for example, when I went from weightlifting to running, I really didn't want to run. But on the advice of a friend and some push from my wife, I started running. But then I fell in love with it how I thought about it changed. And I saw myself as a runner and I naturally did what runners do. 

If we can change how somebody thinks and feels, and also get the behavior change, sometimes, it leads to a change in someone's self-identity and then it almost begins to take on a life of its own. And that's a beautiful thing because then you don't have to go back time and time again, to try to persuade them.

Mahan Tavakoli 

This plays a big role, Brian, in organizational leadership and organizational change. One of the things that has happened over the past generation is that leaders have lost more positional authority. Even in the military, just because the fact that someone is at a higher rank doesn't necessarily mean people will want to follow them. And that's more so the case in all kinds of organizations. And to me, that's why it's essential for leaders to understand the principles of influence because position is no longer enough to have them be able to bring their teams.


There's a picture that we have often used in workshops and it shows Dr. Martin Luther King and he's being arrested. And there's a policeman in his police uniform. And I asked people who is in a position of authority here. And people rightly point to the policemen. And I say, but who is unauthority here, and they get it and they say, Dr. Martin Luther King. 

And my emphasis is yes. By the virtue of their position on the badge, that policeman is in a position of authority. But take away the badge just walking down the street and he tells you to do something most people who are you to tell me what to do. But Dr. Martin Luther King had as much authority sitting in a jail in Memphis, as he did when he was out on the streets of Selma Alabama, because of who he was. 

And so it's really important, I think for leaders today, through a variety of things, their knowledge, their character, in many of the things that people want to follow them, not because of the position they hold, but because of who they are. If you can get the position and the integrity, character, and everything you know, that's a double whammy. That's the best of both worlds, but you don't have to have a formal position to be somebody who can actually lead others.

Mahan Tavakoli 

That's really important to keep in mind, Brian. Also what you do really well, both in your book Influence People and in the parable that you wrote, The Influencer. You help leaders understand how to apply the principles of influence that Cialdini had researched and written about in their daily lives and in their leadership. I want to take a few minutes to try to understand better, how the principles can apply to leaders as they are leading their teams at organizations at a time when the piece of change in the environment has picked up, not just because of COVID. Many different factors have made the pace of change a lot faster, therefore requiring leaders to be able to have greater influence in leading their teams.


The things that we talk about. One of Dr. Robert Cialdini's associates, Dr. Gregory Neider, came up with something he calls the core motives model. And people would often ask, okay, there’s six principles. And it's not like it's too hard to remember six things, but when is it best to use them? And in this framework that he came up, with is a great overarching view of leadership. He said building relationships. 

I think leaders it's really important, especially in the current business environment people who are leaders build relationships with the people they are leading, they're connected and they want to follow. And there are a couple of principles that are very good for doing that. Then even if people like you, they may still be unsure of what to do. There are a couple of principles to help people move beyond this state of uncertainty and give them confidence. 

And then finally, even if people know you and like you, and they're not unsure what they should do, sometimes people still drag their feet because it's very easy to stay in the same routine. There are a few principles that we talk about that are especially good to get people out of their seats and motivate their behavior.

Mahan Tavakoli 

What are the important things to keep in mind is that this is all research-based


Exactly. One of the things that drew me to Robert Cialdini's work because I'm a very logical individual. I'm kinda like show me I want to see the data if what you're telling me to see if it's really the case. Dr. Cialdini and others have researched this now for more than seven decades is a very specific part of social psychology. What causes one person to say yes to another, and take action. 

I am not a social psychologist. I don't aspire to be one. But I feel like I can take more than 35 years of business background by understanding the principles and bringing them together. In ways where people can go, okay. The research was really cool, but I wasn't sure how to put it into practice, but what you're telling me now makes clear sense.

That's how I see my role when I interact with organizations and individuals to really be where the rubber meets the road so that they can get the most bang for the buck out of this research.

Mahan Tavakoli 

You mentioned that relationship is the first area and it's really important. Within the relationship, there are principles of influence that come under that, unity and reciprocity. How can leaders think about increasing the impact of their relationships and the depth of their relationships with their team members and amongst their team members?


I think everything starts with liking. The principle that says it's easier for us to say yes to those we know and like. Now many listeners are probably going well, duh, everybody knows this. And to some degree, everybody understands these principles because they describe human thinking and behavior, and all of your listeners are human beings. 

They're going to either think of a time when they responded to a principle or maybe they say, oh, I actually used that principle. I didn't realize that's why people respond positively. This principle, everybody understands. But what people don't necessarily get is how to strategically and thoughtfully put it into place.

For example, with liking. There are two things that are very easy to cause it to happen. If you and I find out we have something in common, you will naturally like me more. If we found out we cheered for the same team, grew up in the same hometown, whatever. Plenty of research shows you'll start to like me more. Or if I pay you a genuine compliment you know, you feel good, you think, oh, that guy, Brian is a nice guy. But I shouldn't be using these principles Mahan to get you to like me. I should be using them to get myself to like you. Because the same things that will cause you to like me will also make me like you.

I want to just go in with a mindset that says, what can I find that we can connect on so that I will enjoy Mahan more? What can I look for in him that's good that I can pay a genuine compliment because I know it'll help make his day, but it will also help me come to like him more? 

And the reason that this is so important is, as a leader, when you're doing this, and you truly are coming to like the people that you are supporting, and they sense it, and that's the key. When they really sense that's what opens them up. Because most of us believe deep down that friends do right by friends. And they'll start to believe that you as a leader are doing right by them and you are because you really care for them. And so for me, this right here is the foundation of the house. Everything else gets built off of this.

Mahan Tavakoli: 

The way you say it is beautiful and powerful, Brian. And I want to underline it because I think it can be really impactful for all of us as individuals. And as leaders.

You also quote Abraham Lincoln, I don't like that man very much. I need to get to know him better. The point is this is not liking, getting other people to like us. It's finding genuine, sincere reasons to like other people. And I think that is a great framework for leaders to think about as they are thinking about their teams and interacting with their teams.


Absolutely. And once you have this, then if you start looking at, for example, reciprocity. That natural obligation that people feel, to give back to those who first give to them. When you as a leader really have come to know and like your team, it starts to inform your giving. What can you do? How can you best support them? What means the most to them? And you're connecting what you're doing or asking based on that. 

And again, when you have a leader who is doing those kinds of things for you. And I'll reference myself that I worked for the same individual for almost 20 years because he was such a great leader. Sometimes John would stop by my office on a Friday afternoon and say, Hey, how are things going? And I would catch them up on things and they'd say, you know, just go home. Everything's going good. You were on the road last week, just go home. 

Well, how can I not want to give back to John? So anytime I saw an email. 9:00 o clock in the morning, or nine o'clock at night, or 4:30 in the morning, I was going to answer it because I thought John treats me so well. It's the least I can do to jump on this email, get this thing out of the way, and help him. That's the positive reciprocal relationship. But he knew what meant a lot to me. And for me, it was time. And when he gave me more time to be with my family. How could I not respond positively? But that wasn’t formed, starting with liking. He built a strong relationship. He knew me. And then he could genuinely do or give things that meant a lot to me.


With respect to the relationship, Brian. One of the challenges that leaders have had in a virtual environment, and will continue to have in a hybrid work environment, is the unity aspect of influence. 

I was also speaking to Trond Undheim. He's a futurist. And he jokes about the fact that for a dozen years, when he was working for Oracle, he had better relationships, better unity, and better connections with some of his competitors where he felt like they were part of a group, as opposed to people at Oracle. What can leaders do with respect to unity in order to get their teams, whether virtual or hybrid to feel a sense of belonging to that group?


For those who are not familiar with it, unity describes this reality that it's easier for us to say yes to those who are of us. Who is part of our tribe, our group. My dad served in the Marines. There was a deep bond with Marines. And when you have that kind of relationship with somebody where it's unitized, I knew that when my dad would help another Marine, even if he didn't, nothing was reciprocated. He still got something out of it, because helping that person was almost like helping himself. And it would be the other way around too, that another Marine who would have helped my dad wouldn't have expected anything but would have had the satisfaction of knowing I've helped a brother in arms. 

And so when we can foster that, and that's not as easy to bring about his principle of liking it's can be very easy to find things that we have in common. Can be easy, somewhat to find complimentary things. 

But a lot of times we can bring unity through sheer time. So sometimes, we spent so much time working closely with people that we almost start feeling like we know what they're thinking and how they're feeling.

And another way of doing it is by engaging in activities that require us to have some synchronicity. That's why a lot of times leaders would take teams on retreats. And they might do ropes courses. But when you're put into those situations it changes the relationship. 

One more really good example. You were asking about weightlifting and running. I think that CrossFit has done an amazing job with this because it's not like the old days in the gym where I'd go in and I'd do my thing and I'd wave to you across the room Mahan and we got to know each other cause we're there all the time. 

But in CrossFit, you and I are thrown into something where I'm helping you when you're climbing the rope or whatever it is that we're doing, we're doing it together. And you bond over the pain and everything that goes along with that. It develops a much deeper relationship. If you have those opportunities as a leader, with a length of time or unitizing activities, you want to take advantage of those opportunities.

Now one thing that people do have, that hopefully, nobody else will ever have to go through, is if your team has stayed together through the pandemic you have gone through this traumatic experience together. This is something not to just try to put in the rearview mirror and never ever talked about again, it's to talk about we did it and here's how we did it and get people to feel like, you know what? I'm so thankful I was with you. And if I hadn't been, who knows where I would be. There is an opportunity to use that for those who have gone through this traumatic event together as something positive coming out the other side.


A great point with respect to this unity is that this entire experience can bring four people to a certain extent back to your father's experience in the Marine Corps, both being in the Marine Corps. And a lot of times when people go through boot camp together, there is greater unity that comes out of that. One of the challenges, with respect to unity, Brian is in a hybrid environment where some people choose to spend most of their time in the office and others choose to take advantage of the flexibility to be remote. Any thoughts with respect to how leaders can have those people feel a sense of unity as one group, rather than separate groups feeling a sense of unity with each other?


You've got to be very intentional about how you're engaging with people. When we were in the office it was easy. Cause we were just seeing each other. No, yeah. We've got a meeting. Now it can feel like an imposition to have a meeting. Oh, I was on zoom before, but if I were in that leadership position, I would make sure that I am touching base with every person on that team.

So that they're connected back to me as the conduit for the rest of the team. And I would do it in a face-to-face environment. I would say, Mahan, as much as you might say, it's a bad hair day. I always want your camera on. Because in the past we would've seen each other. And that adds a lot to our relationship.

And so asking people to do simple things like that. And then being more intentional about your meetings, making sure that those meetings include an opportunity to talk about how people are feeling about situations. Not something that we always did in the old environment, but recognizing that it's a different and stressful situation. So giving people an opportunity to air that. 

And then hopefully people will also connect so maybe you put something on the table in a meeting I call you up afterward or I get on zoom and I go you know, Mahan, and I really appreciate that you shared that I've been going through that too. Here's something that helped me. And you were like so thankful and now we are connected at a deeper level. 

We have to make sure people are still together to feel like they're part of the team. We have to do what we can to start connecting people who feel connected to each other. And then the whole was much stronger.


Part of the point that I want to underline Brian is the fact that the relationship is at the core of everything. Therefore, when we think about leading our teams and in this instance influence, positive influence and persuasion relationship matter most. What I would do is both in reading your book, The Influencer and also Influence People.

As the leader, I would reflect on how each one of these elements can be implemented and applied in this new work environment. The different work environments require different applications. A relationship is first. You also mentioned principles that apply to uncertainty and we have faced a tremendous amount of uncertainty over the past couple of years.

And part of what we are going to face, Brian, is a lot more of it in the next decade. I was having a conversation with Azeem Azhar. He's written a brilliant book called Exponential Age and talks about the reason why four separate technologies are going through an exponential curve, which will disrupt our lives more than we can imagine. 

One of them being artificial intelligence and we are starting to see some aspects of that are artificial intelligence. We are going to face a lot of uncertainty, which has nothing to do with COVID. What principles of influence apply to leaders leading their teams through uncertainty?


The two principles that you want to focus on when you know that people are feeling a little unsure about what's going on are authority and social group. Authority tells us that people feel more inclined to follow the lead of somebody that they look at it as having superior wisdom or expertise. When two people say the very same thing, somebody who's looked at as an expert is probably going to believe, be believed in the person who's not, may not be believed at all. Even though the very same thing they're saying is exactly true.

And so we have to make sure that people understand, that we have some expertise, maybe what our background is. Opportunities for leaders to, implement that would be making introductions for people as they may become onto the team, or if they're customer-facing, maybe make that introduction to the customer.

Because as a leader, I could say things about individuals on my team, that if they say themselves, it's going to sound like they're boastful braggarts, and nobody wants to have that happen. As a leader, I have to say, how can I support you guys? And you ladies, I'm going to make sure that every time you meet somebody new I'm bragging on you.

But what I would ask them to is give me your best stuff. Give me your best selling points about who you are so I can build you up to be that expert. And that's going to then make their jobs a little bit easier. Certainly, there'll be looking to me for direction.

And so I have to have my own expertise. I need to make sure that they understand. I'm continuing my education, or maybe I'm citing books that I'm reading. Research that I'm coming across to support whatever it is that I might be asking them to do. That could be different than what they've done in the past. Those are just a couple of applications of the principle of authority.


With respect to that authority, as you also underlined, is that the authority doesn't necessarily need to come from the leader. The leader can be a connection to those sources of authority, which is one of the reasons why, at this point, leaders need to continue to have a growth mindset, and learn at a faster pace themselves.


Humans, as social creatures, we are heavily impacted by what other people are doing. What are they thinking? How are they feeling? What are they doing? And if we can draw from other groups, if we can talk about what a large group of people is doing, but more specifically, if we can reference. Others who are maybe like our organization or who are like the individuals in my group.

And I can talk about what they've done and how they've succeeded, then that can give my group more confidence that well, Hey, if it worked for them as a competitor and there are no bigger or better than we are then yeah, maybe we should do this too, but with our own twist on it and we'll get a better result from it.

Referencing similar others in a way where they've succeeded can be highly motivating for people to get beyond this. Like, I'm not sure what I should do state. 

Mahan Tavakoli 

I imagine then with respect to the transition to hybrid work and the future of work. Being able to look at similar organizations, what they have tested, what they're doing can serve as a level of social proof to what you and your team are doing.


People, as the environment changes, most people were working from home, they will probably also think, Hey, everybody's working from home now. Why can't I? 

There may be some truth that a lot of people are working at home. But in certain industries or certain businesses or certain roles, we'll not be able to still work from home or won't be as efficient. 

And so if you're a leader and you're in that situation where you're having to persuade people that they need to be back in the office, or at least for some part of the week, you're going to want to reference other competitors or other roles to say, look, understand that lots of people are now working from home but do you see the people who are in these positions or in these organizations they're not. And here's why they can't. And so what we're asking of you here really isn't any different than what others are doing. 

That becomes a little more compelling for that person if they want to stay in that role or that industry to say, I guess, I am going to have to give up five days at home and be in the office two or three days a week.

Mahan Tavakoli: 

Brian, I smile as you're saying this. Because I can see the audience listening and hearing it, and saying, of course, that makes sense. However, there are countless examples that I know, over the past, few months where organizations took a very different approach to communicating the message to their teams about coming back to the office. 

Where the CEO said we need to come back. This is the dates we've decided. And they sent out the email and got tons of pushback from people and had to retract it. So some of this makes sense when you're talking about it, but what makes us is not really the way a lot of leaders are communicating and trying to lead their teams through uncertainty.


That's a great point because a lot of times, people fail to put themselves in the position of the person who's going to receive the message. And so the message really becomes all about us or the organization, not about you. And, you have to, whether you are a leader, whether you're a salesperson, you have to understand the person that you are trying to influence. And if you don't, then you're just going to be speaking from your own point of view. And a lot of times that just does not resonate with people.

Mahan Tavakoli 

As you then lead them through uncertainty, you want to motivate people to action, which principles apply to that motivating to action.


The principle of consistency and the principle of scarcity. 

So if we start with consistency, this principle describes the reality that most of us feel this internal, psychological pressure, but also an external social pressure to be consistent in what we say and what we do. And since that's a lot of words, it really boils down to this Mahan, word, and deed. 

Most people feel better about themselves when their words and deeds line up. We like to feel like we are consistent aligned individuals. The problem is a lot of times a leader isn't gaining any commitment from people. They're telling them what to do. So if I tell you what to do, if I walk by your desk and say, Hey, Mahan, I need that report by Friday afternoon.

You have all kinds of outs. I didn't hear you. I've been busy. Oh, I was just about to start it. But if I walk by and I say, Hey, Mahan, is there any chance you'd be able to get me that report. And I would say by Tuesday, maybe, or Wednesday, Because if you tell me you're busy, I've got fallback positions, which engage the principle of reciprocity.

But when I ask you and you come back and tell me, yes, the chances that you'll actually do it go up dramatically, because first and foremost, you just don't want to feel bad about yourself as someone who said one thing and then turned around and did another. 

I think leaders, the advice I would give here is, to stop telling people what to do and start asking. And the nice thing about asking too is you don't seem like that demanding jerk. You're somebody who is willing to work with somebody about what you need, but within timeframes that actually work for them.

Mahan Tavakoli 

Brian, how can the questioning be done in a way that engages the other person, rather than just a routine that the leader goes through?


 I think if I walked by your desk and said, can you get me that report by Friday? And you told me I'm busy. I don't think I'll be able to and then I say too bad Mahan. I need it by Friday. You're going to see that now is just a simple technique and you're going to not see any sincerity. But if I'm stepping back as a leader and I'm thinking about how do I interact with my team?

I know you don't want to be told what to do. I know you want options in how you do things. And one of those, again, if I go back to that example, I don't ask by my drop-dead date. But I recognize that if I ask a little bit early, just because I need it by Friday, doesn't mean that's what I needed from you.

If I say could you do it by Tuesday? And you tell me no, I'm swamped right now. I could ask is there any chance by Wednesday afternoon? Because I understand the psychology of reciprocity is when you say no. And if I come in and concede a little. You're quite often willing to meet you part way. It's almost like a little bit of a negotiation to ultimately get something that I still need, but within a timeframe with you that it works. 

The other way is when there are multiple ways to skin the cat, I don't just ask for one thing. I say you know, Mahan, we need to accomplish ABC. And I know there's a number of ways that we can do it. We could do one, we could do two, or we could do three, which do you think might be the best? And you might say, I'd definitely go with one or you might come back and go, I got an even better idea, how about? But you are engaged in the process. I am asking you. I'm not just saying here's the goal. I'm the leader. I know what to do. Go do this Mahan. 

I think those are a couple of ways that we use questions to engage people. So they feel like they have a say in it, and they have ownership in the process and you will own whatever you do much more if you believe that you've also come up with the idea in conjunction with me.

Mahan Tavakoli 

Even in this instance, with the intention to engage the person. And their mind and their heart and soul in doing what you're asking of them and for them to think about it, as opposed to asking, just for the purpose of asking.


When I led a small learning team at, an insurance company where I worked, I had somebody who was just a joy to work with. Her name is Kaitlin and she appreciated the trust that I would put in her. 

I remember she would come into my office and I said here's something we've got going on. And this is how I envisioned things at a high level. And then she said what more do you want me to do? And I said I want to know how you'll do it. She goes but what do you want? And I said, this is my vision, but I trust you. And she was so excited about that. When we ultimately would deliver something, she knew that it was her work

It might've been my high-level vision, but I gave her all the latitude to the best of her ability. Because I knew this, she understood the details of learning better than I did. Why do I want to get in there and micromanage the process when everything she would come up with, I'm like, oh my gosh, that is gold. I wouldn't have thought of that. That's great. And so we had a wonderful working relationship.

Mahan Tavakoli 

That feeds into motivation and also scarcity, which as I looked at the Cialdini principles, I didn't see as easy of a transition to leadership, but you have a great way of communicating how scarcity play a role, in leading your teams.


Scarcity is all about that fear of loss we're more motivated to take action when we think something's rare or going away. Just something in us that wants it. And all you have to do is watch a child and you try to take their toy and they will just naturally want that back. It's hardwired in us. 

What I am not an advocate of is fear-mongering and scare tactics or talking to people in a way that's just a downer, but it's a simple reframe of a lot of things. Instead of talking about here are all the gains or positives. It's like, let me be honest with you. Here's the downside if we don't get this done. And have people feel a sense of urgency in doing so. 

As a leader, you might have somebody who's getting close to earning a bonus and you might tell that person, Hey George you're so close to getting the bonus and if you do XYZ, you're going to earn the bonus.

I'd say, George, you're really close to getting the bonus. And if we don't get XYZ done, though, it's not going to happen. And I want George to feel this in his gut, like holy cow, thanks for letting me know. And he'll work harder to avoid losing the bonus than he would to gain it. 

Those are just a couple of simple things that leaders can do to, I think, help motivate the team so that ultimately, when they accomplish those goals and they get those rewards, they're like, thank you for letting me know what was on the line. I'd forgotten about that.

Mahan Tavakoli 

I was just hearing an interview with John List, who's also an economist who has done lots of work with various organizations from Lyft and Uber on out, and his research has built on what Daniel Conaman had also done with respect to loss aversion. There is a lot of research showing why we hold on to things more. We are more fearful of losing a hundred dollars, than the willingness to gain a hundred dollars. 

The principles that you're very quickly mentioning here, every one of them, there is a lot of research and science behind. And every one of them is worth reading and thinking about their applications. These are real principles of influence and persuasion in the organization. 

Brian, what are your thoughts and perspectives as someone who studied influenced so deeply with respect to how leaders should think about establishing some new norms, new patterns within their team and organizations, and culture moving forward.


I think the biggest thing that most people will appreciate is the actual human connection. You and I are talking and I'm sitting here in my home and I've got a video studio and it's been a godsend. I had done so much work, keynotes, training, and things like that. And I'm so thankful for it. But boy, there's nothing like being in front of people actually.

And when I did get out last summer and fall to conferences and had lunch with people and shook hands and had conversations, it was like so much better. And it makes me think that if you're running an organization, you need to create something where people really want to be there. They may still say two days a week, I gotta be at home. But for those three days, I look forward to them because I'm going to have lunch with my friend again. And I'm going to have some of that conversation in the hallway that I wasn't getting at all when I was home in zoom. Being very thoughtful about how do you want to structure things so that people experience positive feelings and actually want to be there. 

And of course, if they're feeling good, they're going to be more productive as well. That's going to be very different for each organization depending on their culture. But we can't just go into the office and maybe I'm in there early and you walk in and I just wave at you like I had in the past and don't acknowledge it, anything else is different. And then you might be going. Yeah, it's nice to see him, but I wish I was at home right now. I want to do something that is going to draw you in and say, I don't want to miss this.

Mahan Tavakoli 

I love that Brian, we need to rethink those in-person experiences. There is real value to the human connection. There is an energy that comes from it there are relationship elements that come from it, that are core to us as human beings, and for us to work well together as team members and members of an organization. 

That said the way we approached work before will not achieve the end results we look for in the future. We need to maximize the opportunities in a work environment for those human connections. To your point, people don't come back to the office and ask themselves, wait a minute. I could have just as easily, it would have been joining these zoom calls or be doing my work back at home rather than making a track to come into the office.


Absolutely. And I know from having worked, I worked in downtown Columbus. It was about a 15-mile commute to go in and home. And so there was traffic, I don't miss that stuff at all, but I do miss the occasional bumping into somebody and saying, Hey, you want to have lunch today? And then we would sit down. 

Cause there are many people that over the years I formed really good friendships with, and now I don't see them at all. That's one of the things you can't make up in the virtual environment. And having something like that helps people get more connected when they get back in the office. Otherwise, we're going to end up living in a world where everybody sits in their home, hits their keyboard, and just goes with the highest bidder. And I don't think any of us wants that. 

And the last thing I would say in terms of the connection too is we should never undervalue the human touch. Because it's when we touch that we gain trust in oxytocin and all those things. And Simon Sinek put it well once when he said how would you feel about somebody if you negotiated a deal and you said, let's shake on it. And they said, no. You'd be like wait a minute. And so we have an opportunity, obviously in very appropriate ways in a corporate environment, but that human touch, that connection that we can have with people, you cannot replace that online.

Mahan Tavakoli 

You definitely can then in establishing those human connections in leading the team through change, and through uncertainty. It's important to understand and apply the rules of ethical influence and your books serve as a great way to do that. 

Before finding out about ways the audience can find out more about you, Brian, and connect with you. Are there any leadership practices or resources other than your own that you typically find yourself recommending to leaders?


One of the best practices that I utilized which was a modification of what my boss had done with me. When I was leading that small team, I would ask everybody on the team and I do detail this in the book, The Influencer, I would ask them, Hey, by noon on Friday, I would like an email that tells me your top two or three accomplishments of the week

The number one challenge that you'll be facing in the week coming up, and then what your priorities are for next week. And not everything but your top two or three priorities. Because one, I wanted them to look back at their calendar and think about the week and feel good about what they had accomplished.

And I'm not with them all the time so I don't know what seemingly little wins were big for them because they help things move along. They got to brag to me. Then I knew as a coach, what I could work on and think about to help them in terms of the challenge they were facing. And because I wasn't with them all the time, I had a sense of where they were going to be prioritizing their time for the next week.

What I did Mahan was I would take that and I would drop it into an Excel spreadsheet and then everybody had their own tab and when I would sit down, whether it was quarterly, annual review, I could filter down all of their accomplishments or I could filter down the priorities. I would give it back to them and I'd say, here's everything you've accomplished over the last quarter.

And they were, Holy cow, they had forgotten just like I could, as a leader, I could forget what they did six months ago. But now it's in black and white in front of me. And that was gold. At first, they resisted a little bit, they're like, oh, here's one more thing I got to do. Once they saw how I proactively used it to help them, they started giving me like five accomplishments and two challenges and things like that because they saw value, in what I was doing with the information they provide.

Mahan Tavakoli 

You weren't just asking them to do a hoop jump for your sake. You were doing something to their benefit. Going back to whether it was the conversation around what makes influence ethical or why it's important for the liking to be the liking of the other person. 

In this instance, also, Brian, your intention was to serve your team members rather than having them fill reports or do things just to serve you. And I appreciate that mentality that you have in all of your content. How can the audience find out Brian more about you and connect with you?


 Two ways, they could go visit my website which is And there are tons of podcasts, videos. And blogging weekly for almost 15 years, and a lot of information, but connect with me on LinkedIn. I post a lot of content on LinkedIn. if you're interested in this, you're going to learn a lot more.

And when you reach out, if you don't put a message like, Hey, I heard you on Mahan podcast, the guarantee, I'm going to come back with a personal response and ask you, how did you find me? I like to know why people are reaching out. But it also puts the social back in social media. It will give us an opportunity to have a little bit of an exchange where we can get to know each other. And I find that people really do appreciate that.

Mahan Tavakoli 

I know, I appreciate that. I connected with you a few years back, Brian. Having heard you, having read your book, having followed your content, and continuing to learn from you on influence, doing it ethically and using science-based influence. 

Because part of what I talk about Brian, is that we want to lead our teams and organizations to higher levels of purpose and impact for the benefit of the people and for the benefit of the community.

And in order to do that, we need to learn those rules of influence. I really appreciate all you've done to the conversation with the partnering leadership podcast. Thank you so much, Brian Ahearn.

Brian: It was my pleasure. Thank you for having me on the show.