© 2024 New Hampshire Public Radio

Persons with disabilities who need assistance accessing NHPR's FCC public files, please contact us at publicfile@nhpr.org.
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
Purchase your tickets today and be entered to win ALL prizes including $35k toward a new car or $25k in cash during NHPR's Summer Raffle!

Yale professor teaches influence and she says it's your superpower


Students at Yale University can take a class in how to increase their influence in the world. The instructor behind it, Zoe Chance, has written a book called "Influence Is Your Superpower." She describes people as either having gator or judge personalities. She told our co-host A Martinez what she means by those terms.

ZOE CHANCE: I actually believe all of us are gators at heart. And the gator part is our unconscious, intuitive, emotional, habitual part of us that drives up to 95% of our decisions and behavior. The judge part, which we also all have, is the slow, conscious, rational, deliberative decision-making system that's only responsible for a tiny little shred of what we do. And our visceral responses, our emotional preferences have a lot of sway on our reasoning. It turns into rationalization of what we already wanted a lot of the time. And there's very little influence going the other direction. So as someone trying to influence another human being, it's absolutely critical that we focus on that unconscious, emotional, habitual gator system first. Have them be interested and excited and curious to hear what we have to say before shifting to the judge.

A MARTÍNEZ, BYLINE: Is there a way to toggle somehow between the two to understand and to know what you're doing when you're doing it?

CHANCE: You can't be aware of the unconscious - right? - just by definition. It's not possible. So you can't perceive it or feel it. But you can perceive your emotions, right? You can know, OK, for example, I'm in a state of agitation, stress, anger, worry, hunger, exhaustion, and you just know you're not going to be making good decisions at that time. So the simplest thing that you can do is just table a big decision. Or if someone's trying to pressure you - all these transactional sales situations where you get to buy now, special deal today only - if you just sleep on it, the deal will still be there.

MARTÍNEZ: In a course you developed at Yale, you challenge your students to say no for 24 hours. I mean, what does that exercise in particular teach them?

CHANCE: People hate this exercise when I tell them about it...

MARTÍNEZ: (Laughter).

CHANCE: ...And they love the exercise after they did it. For 24 hours of no, first of all, people are discovering that almost all of us are people pleasers. Our initial just gut response to most requests from people we know is we try to say yes. We look at our calendar, see if there's a spot, and we put them in it. And we have been unintentionally giving away our most valuable resource, which is our time and attention. The second big discovery is that other people are so much more OK with us saying no than we expected. They don't hate us for it. They were just asking. So we say no. And they're - you know, maybe they ask why. But it's really OK.

MARTÍNEZ: Yeah. That ends things, doesn't it? - because saying yes keeps things going that maybe you don't want to keep going. But no is a nice, big, old red stop sign.

CHANCE: Yeah. And weirdly, when we get more comfortable saying no - this is the weirdest part - we get more comfortable asking. And our requests don't have that edge of neediness that can be kind of repulsive. So people are more inclined to say yes to us when we are more comfortable saying no.

MARTÍNEZ: So this - does this kind of flow into your theory on just asking for what you want?

CHANCE: Yes, absolutely. This is such a simple thing that it's embarrassing that when you come to a place like Yale and you take the most popular class, a big takeaway is just ask - because you should know these things already, and someone should have taught you in elementary school. But we don't realize how little we're asking, how rarely we're asking, how often and how much we could ask for, but especially we don't realize how nice people are. That's the biggest thing. People are two or three times more likely to say yes than we think that they will be.

MARTÍNEZ: There was a part of the book that really kind of sucked me in, and that was the magic question. What is the magic question, and why is it so effective?

CHANCE: The magic question is, what would it take? To illustrate, here's a story to show how it works. In Zambia, there's been a sex trafficking conference where Gloria Steinem was there as an expert talking on this issue and giving advice. She goes to a village that's facing that issue. And three young women have been lost to sex traffickers the previous year. Instead of giving them advice, she asks the magic question. She says, what would it take for that to never happen again? They told her an electric fence. An electric fence? They said, when the corn reaches a certain height, the elephants come, and they eat it, and they trample it. We have no food. We have nothing to sell at the market. We have no money to send our kids to school. And these women and their families were desperate. So Gloria Steinem goes back home. She raises a few thousand dollars, sends them the money. And the way she tells it, when she comes back a few years later, there's a bumper crop of corn. No women have left the village to sex trafficking since they got the fence. The magic question is magic because, first of all, it's respectful. This is a way that you want to be influenced by someone. So even when you teach it to other people and they're using it with you, you ask each other, what would it take? - and - ah, the magic question. But you tell each other it feels good. The magic question is magic because you get creative and surprising answers that you never would have expected. And thirdly, it's magic because when they tell you, here's the roadmap to success, they are implicitly committing to supporting that outcome. So the way I hear this story, it's not that the fence magically prevented sex trafficking. It's that the women who had asked for the fence made sure that after they got it, no one was going to leave the village that way.

MARTÍNEZ: One last thing, Zoe - so what's the one piece of advice for starting out maybe small as you try to increase your influence power?

CHANCE: You know, honestly, A, I would start with the magic question, what would it take?


CHANCE: But you don't have to go to the high-stakes situation of asking for a raise or a promotion. Like, what is it that is - difficulty that you're having at home? If you have kids, maybe, you know, your kid isn't putting clothes in the hamper. What would it take for you to put the clothes in the hamper? Asking your friends, what would it take for us to go on a vacation together? Whatever it is that you want, just start asking, what would it take? And you will be surprised. It feels like magic. Once in a while, you find out it's impossible, but much less often than you expect.

MARTÍNEZ: That's Zoe Chance. Her book is called "Influence Is Your Superpower: The Science Of Winning Hearts, Sparking Change, And Making Good Things Happen."

Zoe, thanks.

CHANCE: Thank you so much.

(SOUNDBITE OF EDAPOLLO'S "BY THE RIVER") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

You make NHPR possible.

NHPR is nonprofit and independent. We rely on readers like you to support the local, national, and international coverage on this website. Your support makes this news available to everyone.

Give today. A monthly donation of $5 makes a real difference.