Last night I went to see the English hypnotist and mentalist Derren Brown perform an amazing show, where he performed uncanny acts of mind-reading and influencing through the power of suggestion.

As Derren asked his audience to promise not to reveal the contents of the show, I will stick with that promise – no spoilers – but I did think afterwards about the importance of influencing skills for Project Managers.

I don’t think Project Managers will ever need to be able to influence people to choose a particular card from a pack, but they will need to get people to select their project when making a priority call, or get people to put in some extra work over the weekend, or encourage people to get their action items closed out in time.

So what tips can we learn from Mr Brown? I learned three tips last night:

  1. The power of story telling. While delivering his show, Derren doesn’t say “and for my next trick…”, instead he tells us a story about himself, his childhood, his personal experience. He then draws from that experience an underlying lesson – a deeper truth.

It’s a compelling performance. His story captivates us, we are drawn in and we engage with what he is telling us.  A Project Manager could benefit so much by using that technique to influence stakeholders.  You win hearts and minds not by saying “this project will reduce the cost of goods sold for this medicine by 2%” but instead by showing how the efficiencies that can be delivered by this project will reduce the cost of medicine, making it accessible to thousands of more people in the world whose lives will be transformed.  A very different message.

  1. Use of metaphor and analogy. Derren uses language very effectively to tie together concepts and generate emotional responses from us. By deeply connecting emotions and anchoring those emotions with his influencing messages, he is able to effectively connect with people’s emotions.

This approach is exactly how advertising companies operate, and it can be just as effective too for you dealing with your project stakeholders. If you need to win the minds of your management team to invest in new technology or processes, get them to recall how it felt last year when the technology let them down, and they had to work long hours and miss vacation just to compensate.  Then show how this new technology will solve the problem.  I feel supportive already!

  1. The importance of body language. He reads people like a book. A very open book.  Not many of us can do it to his level of skill, but if you do take the time to focus on people’s body language, you will often become aware of how they really feel.

You will sense when they don’t agree, giving you an opportunity to re-phrase your argument. You will sense when they don’t understand, letting you try to approach it from a new angle.  Or you might sense that you have had enough and simply want to walk away, in which case you should simply stop, regroup and ask for a follow up meeting.

Aspira Project Management training courses will help you identify and engage your project stakeholders – check us out at www.aspira.ie

You don’t need to be a mentalist to be a Project Manager – but it sure can help.

Author: Pat Lucey, CEO, Aspira

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