The balloon boy’s dad, Richard Heene, thought he’d convinced America that his eccentric family should have its own reality show.
Instead, he got a reality check.
Why? We were on to him, suspicious of his communication style from the get-go. The circumstances leading up to the Jiffy Pop balloon escapade were telling: the Wife Swap appearances. The rant-filled video of the balloon release. The former colleagues calling Heene a narcissistic attention-seeker.
Dad got precisely the attention he didn’t want when his non-balloon boy opened his mouth on live TV. Falcon revealed what six year olds often do – the truth. “You said we did it for the show,” he replied to dear old dad, talking too much.
Whoops. The family’s alibi just floated away.
So what does this have to do with you in the workplace? Everything. We’re living in a skeptical world. Even when you try to convince others to buy into your ideas and decisions legitimately, people are suspicious they’re being duped. The more you talk, the less they believe. The new default status is to assume that people are pulling a fast one.
In my new book, Talk Less, Say More, I lay out the three habits you need to influence others successfully in our demanding 21st century world. The 3 habits are to Connect-Convey-Convince®. Heene’s stunt soared through the first two habits by engaging and laying out a strong storyline, but his balloon popped as he attempted the third and trickiest habit, to convince.
First, let’s get clear about what I mean by convincing, which is very different from manipulating. The difference is intent. Manipulators like Richard Heene focus on their own needs and theirs alone. They’re determined to get their way, regardless of their impact on others. They’ll steamroll, lie, or talk too much in order to get what they want. Ultimately, a manipulator’s story doesn’t ring true, so he/she fails to convince.
It’s a tremendous challenge to influence behaviors, decisions and actions in today’s skeptical world. Here are three strategies to help you convince honestly and successfully:
- Sound decisive. Stop babbling and backpedaling. Caught in a tangled web when his son outed him, Heene started backpedaling. He stalled as he tried to come up with an plausible answer as to why Falcon said, “we did it for the show.” With the evidence mounting against him, dad’s balloon of confidence deflated. He sidestepped by blaming the media, and he came across as deceptive.
- Transfer ownership. You need peer power in order to convince others to buy in. That means you must shift your ideas and decisions to others so they’ll embrace them. Did Heene have peers in his life who backed him up? No. One by one, former colleagues stepped forward to trash the guy. They essentially called him a media whore. His peers weren’t convinced that he was telling the truth, so we weren’t either.
- Adjust your energy. It’s critical to choose the right energy level for the situation. Mom and pop Heene seemed to have hit the sweet spot for the 911 call and the ensuing police visit at the house. The cops who monitored the family on lift-off day thought the Henne family got the verbal and body language right. But they couldn’t sustain it. Why? Energy feeds on itself. Once the Heene’s went off-script, they were done in. Turns out the “amateur scientist” was also an amateur actor. Dad’s body language when young Falcon talked too much on CNN was a giant red flag. Dad’s face, body and tone of voice changed drastically and revealed that he was lying.
Heene’s plan to land a reality gig crash landed, and not nearly as gently as the Jiffy Pop balloon in the newly-ploughed field. Instead of facing reality TV cameras, Heene and his wife are now facing federal charges. Bottom line? Convincing is not a thunderbolt event. It’s not a once-and-done episode. It’s a sequence of events that unfolds incrementally, earning others’ trust and respect. And that’s not hot air.