Mark Goulston & John Ullmen

Do you like it when people push you?  Does it increase your motivation to do what they want?  Chances are if you are like most people, you don't like being pushed and it more often triggers your resentment more than it motivates you.

More than ever before, people see through the self-serving tactics and techniques that others use to persuade them. They don’t like being pushed, played or nudged to comply, and they resist and resent not being heard.

To learn how the best-of-the-best achieve real influence, for our recent book we conducted over 100 extensive interviews with highly respected influencers from all walks of life.

Among the dozens of insightful lessons we learned from them is this one: To influence, be influenceable.

If you aren’t seen as influenceable when different points of view arise, you can lose credibility and connection. You appear preprogrammed to reject other people’s ideas and follow a self-advantageous path to your preferred outcome. And worst of all, as the following example shows, you risk making very bad decisions.

Night Falls on Nike Town…Almost

Marilyn Tam has a power résumé that includes serving as CEO of Aveda and president of Reebok Apparel and Retail Group. But one of her favorite stories about influence comes from the early days of her career, in the late 1980s.

Back then, Marilyn was running one of the divisions for a regional apparel chain. Someone suggested that she should talk with a guy from Oregon who wanted to grow a chain of specialty stores. It was Phil Knight, CEO of Nike.

Marilyn was excited about the opportunity to create a whole new store concept. Until then, she’d been working with existing stores. Here was her chance to shape things from the beginning.

But when she looked into Nike’s products, she knew there was a problem. They were riding on the enormous popularity of their shoes, which were designed and manufactured to high-quality standards. That wasn’t the case, however, for their clothing and other accessories. In fact, it seemed to Marilyn that Nike was simply ordering inexpensive stock items, putting a Nike label on them, and pricing them at a premium.

Marilyn knew this would damage the company’s reputation and had the potential to cause a host of other business problems.

She could see that her meeting with Knight would be a challenge. If she told the truth, it could make for an uncomfortable first (and possibly last) meeting.  

Marilyn flew to Oregon, and the interview went exceedingly well. So well, in fact, that Knight offered her the job on the spot. She replied, “As much as I would like to work with you, if you open a store right now, you will fail.”

Knight was not pleased. As Marilyn said to us, “It ended the conversation quickly.”

She flew home, feeling that she’d given up a great opportunity but at least had held to her principles. Then, a few weeks later, the phone rang. It was Phil Knight.

He told her, “I thought about what you said, and I did some research. You’re right. Instead of opening the stores now, you figure out the apparel and accessories that are up to the standards and reputation of Nike in the marketplace.”

So she did. And in the process, she helped transform apparel and accessories from “also-rans” into key elements that enhanced Nike’s image and success.

The right way to “Just do it”

Being influenceable isn’t about giving in, giving up, being weak or soft, being scared, or being any less committed to your principles and to achieving excellent results. And being influenceable doesn’t mean that you’re not going to disagree.

What being influenceable does mean is that you go into conversations being willing to believe that you may be partially or totally wrong; that the other person may be partially or completely right; and that even if the other person isn’t right, you will learn something valuable from your interaction.

To achieve real influence, be like Phil. Be influenceable. 



Mark Goulston, M.D., F.A.P.A. is a business psychiatrist, executive consultant, keynote speaker and co-founder of Heartfelt Leadership. He is the co-author of Real Influence: Persuade Without Pushing and Gain Without Giving In (Amacom, 2013). Contact him here.



John Ullmen, Ph.D. oversees and teaches at the UCLA Anderson School of Management. He is the co-author of Real Influence: Persuade Without Pushing and Gain Without Giving In (Amacom, 2013). Contact him here


Christine M's picture
This article holds the key to building successful business relationships. If you go into a meeting with the attitude that you will be teaching your potential partner something, they will immediately go on the defensive. It is important to maintain an attitude of respect in your day-to-day dealings. Great article.

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