Marc is a young and ambitious general manager; recently appointed to his position, he is for the first time presenting his business plan to the global category board; he has prepared extensively; he is ready to answer all possible questions and to defend every bit of his proposition. To his great dismay the meeting does not go well and his plan is rejected. On the way back, he reasons with himself and concludes that he was insufficiently prepared. As he begins to refine his arguments, his boss calls him with a different perspective.

Back from the board meeting, Marc lists all the raised objections and retroactively analyzes his answers. He feels that the market analysis was thorough, the conclusions clear, the plan well constructed, the goals ambitious yet attainable, the investments reasonable, the risks contained, the actions consistent and the responsibilities clearly assigned. Yet every point of his presentation was challenged and he felt dragged to justify every single detail. Although he tried to force the attention of the board back to his master plan, digressions continued and he ended up losing focus. At the end, he was sent back to “rework his proposal”. The conclusive comment sounded vague: “Something is not right, we are not convinced, do think it over and come back with a better proposal”. “What sort of comment is that?” he thinks.

Marc is frustrated. Yet, he is determined to win. He is going to prepare a step-by-step justification of every single action, with extensive and conclusive support data, well organized behind every point of his plan. “It might become a long and tedious presentation”, he thinks, “but I will convince them that my plan is right”. He has just started to rework his arguments when his boss calls him.

Nancy, Marc’s boss, asks him how he feels. “Lousy”, he thinks. In stead he tells her that he had half-expected for his first plan not to be approved right away; “I am still new and they don’t know me, they want to test me, no problem, I am already working on boosting my arguments, I will be ready in a couple of days”.

There is a second of silence on the other side of the phone. Then Nancy asks him: “Did you understand their concerns?” “Oh come on”, Marc blows, “it was just a bunch of objections about small details! No, I did not understand, I guess they felt they just had to challenge everything under the sun; and by the way you, Nancy, you said nothing to help; it was kind of frustrating, but don’t you worry, I am preparing additional arguments to address any and all of their concerns and you can be sure that next time I will convince them.”

After another second of silence, Nancy speaks again. “I am curious about how you are going to address concerns that you say you do not understand.” This time Marc is speechless.

“You see Marc”, Nancy finally tells him, “you kept adding more information and more details. You overwhelmed us with information. It seemed like you did not hear or understand the questions: when asked about your vision, you gave us the market data that support your plan; when asked about your strategy you showed us the timeline of each project; when asked about resources you talked responsibilities and for success criteria you shared the results of a risk analysis. When you realized that your answers did not address the concerns, you simply stopped trying to convince us. “The only thing that you never did was CHECK YOUR UNDERSTANDING”

Does this story sound familiar? We all know a “Marc”. Many of us, myself included, have been “Marc” at one point or another during our career. When we try to “convince” others by showing how prepared we are, we may be forgetting that THE FIRST RULE OF INFLUENCE IS TO UNDERSTAND.

There are many reasons that make us feel the need to “prove ourselves”: Inexperience, over-eagerness, lack of confidence, habit or simply stress. We are more likely to stop listening when we are under pressure.

Another thing to remember about the first rule of influence is that in order to understand we need to both REVEAL (being open, authentic and transparent) and to LISTEN (using active listening and checking understanding). This requires PRACTICE.

Highly influential people do linger in the first phase of any negotiation; they dance between revealing and listening and in the process they establish themselves as approachable and at the same time authoritative. More about Approachability and Authority in the next newsletter.

“You have never converted a man because you silenced him” (John Morly, 1874)

How can Grooa help you increase your influence?

Influence without Authority workshop, two days
Listening Skills online training, individual or groups (up to 6), 8 hours
Executive Coaching

Contact us for more information or a free consultation at