How to improve your influence with Dr. Zoe Chance

Stephanie Andel, PhD
Team Humu

In March, we were lucky enough to be joined by Dr. Zoe Chance as part of our Science & Snacks series in which our co-founder and Head of People Science Dr. Jessie Wisdom hosts a fireside chat with a prominent expert. Zoe is a Senior Lecturer at Yale School of Management and her research focuses on understanding interpersonal influence at work and beyond.

Zoe joined us to discuss her new book Influence Is Your Superpower, which outlines research-based influence strategies readers can use to positively impact their lives, organizations, and even society at large.

Below is an excerpt from the discussion between Jessie and Zoe.

Dr. Jessie Wisdom (JW): I am so excited to welcome Zoe Chance today! Zoe, let's start off with your new book. Can you share a bit more about it with us?

Dr. Zoe Chance (ZC): The book is based on what I wish that I had learned as an MBA student and as a person who wanted to make good things happen. 

Over the years, I’ve learned that people often feel uncomfortable advocating for themselves or putting their voices out in the world. Nearly everyone feels uncomfortable with influence in some domain of their lives—money, love, etc. This book helps solve that problem. 

JW: Can you share a popular influence strategy that you teach?

ZC: Sure, the weirdest influence strategy I teach is to try to get rejected. That challenge allows people to reframe a scary situation so that you can’t lose. If you get rejected, you win. If you don't get rejected, you also win. 

The most surprising is how rarely people get rejected - it happens 2-3 times less frequently than people expect. In other words, we’re very poorly calibrated. We don't know what’s “too much” to ask for, and we’re bad at predicting who will say “Yes” or “No” to our requests.

When you practice seeking rejection, you become more resilient and more comfortable asking. And you stop being so concerned with failure. I believe that if you're not failing along the way, it means you're playing small. We should be setting goals for ourselves and our teams and our organizations that we're not sure we're going to hit.

JW: In your book, you refer to the “magic question.” What exactly is the magic question? 

ZC: It’s my favorite strategy. The magic question is just, “What would it take?” You can use this question to be more influential in almost any context, as long as you have rapport with the other person. 

It's a respectful question. It shifts the dynamic from pressure to problem solving. And it’s respectful because you're acknowledging that they’re the expert on their situation and their obstacles. 

You can ask the magic question in almost any context. You can even use it in critical feedback conversations to help somebody save face. Say your employee is not upholding their commitment to something. It can be deeply uncomfortable to receive negative feedback, but instead, you can ask, “What would it take for (this thing) to happen?”

JW: Fascinating! In the book, you also mention that in your surveys, you find that 40% of men say that they like or love to negotiate, but only 17% of women do. Can you talk a little bit more about the research on why women are less likely to negotiate, and share any advice for women about negotiating or influencing others?

ZC: It’s well-documented that women tend to dislike negotiating more: they tend to do less negotiating overall and they usually ask for less when they do negotiate. But what a lot of people don't understand is that the biggest gender difference is that women are less likely to understand that they can negotiate. And this goes with the general finding that people in higher status roles feel more privileged to ask for exceptions and negotiate in all kinds of ways.

Many women have been taught to be self-reliant. We  also bear the brunt of what I’d call benevolent sexism, where we get asked for more help because we're perceived to be warmer and kinder. Additionally, women feel like we're supposed to be kind, so we're less comfortable saying no. Ultimately,  we end up being tapped out and exhausted because we're giving more help and getting less of it. 

So my advice to women is this: the biggest difference in expectations of women and men is that women will be warmer - it's not that women will ask for less. What this means is that if women violate the expectation of being warm, society will call them words like “bossy.” But that does not mean that we can't ask for a lot and make audacious requests. It just helps if we do it with warmth. And it turns out that when we ask for as much as men do, we tend to get as much as men do.

JW: This has been such a useful conversation. Thank you for joining us, Zoe!