Do you have an idea to improve your organization or department that you want upper management to adopt? Do you need to close a sale? In situations like these, you are the underdog. It’s a given that it takes a team or coalition of people to effect change. We even see this tactic at play in reality shows where contestants are pitted against each other, where it’s usually portrayed as a dastardly tactic. However, you should consider this tactic to move your request or cause up the corporate ladder.
Research on successful “underdog” influencers shows that virtually all of them recruited a team of people to help them move their cause or idea forward. However, they were not satisfied with just any “warm body.” There is a distinct pattern to the pack members of successful underdog teams. Whether you are seeking a promotion at work, working to sign a new client or trying to sell an idea to management, you need a team of people on your side. Here are some tips on how to make sure that team of people can help you succeed:
Find the “right” people (connected, converted) rather than the “best” people for an effective underdog persuasion pack. The key—as the 1980 U.S. men’s Olympic hockey coach Herb Brooks said as he was assembling his 1980 Olympic hockey team—is not necessarily getting the best people on your team, but the right people. When it comes to underdog influence, the “right” people are connected converts.
Find and engage the connected. Be a human chauvinist connected to people both offline and online. While this may represent heresy to some, “connected” here does not mean the number of Facebook friends, LinkedIn connections, and Twitter followers you or your pack members may have, although that kind of connection isn’t useless. Underdogs must use all the tools in their toolbox to build their pack—and social media provides tools that play a part.
Do a social capital pre-test with your team members by giving them a small task or favor to ask of someone. Watch what happens. Who has the social capital to get a phone call returned, to make sure their meeting request is granted? The persuasion tasks required for upward influence aren’t the same as those pursued by those who frequent social networks. Upward influence requires varsity team players who have social capital more than social networks. Social capital translates into behavior. When you request a meeting with a top dog, will it be granted? When you try to mobilize coworkers for your cause, will they join? Will they return your phone calls?
Recruit convert communicators as pack members. Who do you know who was formerly against your cause? Building a pack with a few converts can also increase your team’s influence IQ. Convert communicators are individuals who previously were averse to your position but are now on your team. Here’s why they are persuasive.
Converts are those who were on the “other side;” they agreed with the view of those you are now trying to persuade, and now see things your way. They provide jet fuel to your team because they can provide insight into the persuasive messages that converted them.
They also are persuasive. They are seen by the people you want to influence as similar to themselves, which we know is a powerful persuasion source as opposed to a message coming directly from you, the opponent. Your influence prospect may be thinking, ‘This was someone who used to agree with me.’ So, the very presence of the convert communicator brings along a possibility of a change in attitude. Your prospect may think, ‘That person did it, why can’t I?’
Convert communicators are among the many reasons for the life-transforming power of groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous. As perfect examples of “converts,” former alcoholics yield considerable influence because they’ve converted from one lifestyle and ideology to a totally opposite set of beliefs.
Make sure your converts have freely made the decision to convert. Converting to save their skin isn’t convincing. Converts are especially beneficial to your cause when they willingly made the decision to convert. Just like a salesperson who doesn’t believe in their product isn’t as convincing as someone who uses the product and loves it, your converts are more credible when their decision to convert is made absent of outside pressure.
Fair or unfair, not all team members are created equal. When you thoughtfully recruit the right team members, you’ll increase your influence success.
Amy Showalter is the author of “The Underdog Edge: How Ordinary People Change the Minds of the Powerful. . . and Live to Tell About It.” For more information, visit www.showaltergroup.com or www.underdogedge.com.