Disclaimer: I'll warn my good friends.. you may have heard this one before if we've taked about influence. Wanted to get it in writing once and for all.
Decades ago I was a projectionist dealing with intensely intelligent people, PhD medical researchers in fact.
I'd meet them in a prep room, gather and orient up hundreds of 35mm slides in trays and walk them through the logistics of the most important presentation of their professional lives. Many times these folks were coming to me after ten years of research, preparing to sell their case to a live audience of fifteen hundred colleagues from the most prominent American medical organization, ready to question their findings and theories on life saving therapies or drugs. Needless to say they were often a little nervous, very worried about how they were perceived, and sure something beyond their control would go wrong.
I'd soothe them and let them know how the system worked. "Just press forward or reverse, don't worry about the focus or the power. I've got that. Above all, don't
press the power button. If you do, you'll have five minutes in front of the audience with black screen while the projector comes back online." I won't mention how many times some poor shaking researcher would confidently proclaim, "Let's begin" then press the power button and complain of technical difficulties for the next five minutes. Sorry, I just mentioned it... and that's another story. My point has to do with my projector trick.
So often with these nervous, tender people, I witnessed the best of fear based behaviors. Before the audience would arrive we'd go to the podium to see the slides on the 30ft screen and check out the controls. In most cases this was the first time these images had been seen outside of a microscope or loupe (It was a long, long time ago). Invariably, the researcher would say "Jeeze, this is awfully out of focus. The thing is, as a projectionist, you know your focal length, you have your focus marks, the convergence (yepper, old school three gun thanks) is set. You know what you've got is good. The right answer however is "ya know, you're right, let me take a look at that." At this point, my job was to crawl back upstairs to the mammoth projector, grab the manual focus, throw it 100% out, then return it slowly to the focal mark I'd thoughtfully established with a reference slide at the start of my day. I'd return to the stage, stare at the screen, pace back and forth with hand on chin, and look to the presenter for approval. Nine of ten times I'd hear "perfect!". In the rare one in ten where they didn't agree, I'd grab a colleague with a radio, and go back to the projector to suss it out with the researchers perspective. That's what the meeting was all about after all.
A few take aways I find relevant to my work today:
- Often, we simply need to be pulled from our perspective in a safe way. One that's meaningful and offers impact to our immediate needs.
- Opinions can change with the right information. Instead of beating your influencee over the head with your perspective, let them see the spectrum of opportunity. They'll tell you where to go.
- Get out of your safety zone. Often. You may well ditch a useless fear that's holding you back or remove a barrier you've placed as protection.
- Listen. You aren't always right. Don't forget that for a second.
Image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/rvwithtito/4236716778/