Wake-up call: Why it’s good to have an advocate

Wake-up call: Why it’s good to have an advocate

No one likes a braggart so get someone else to list your experience


Steve Martin

Following a trusted authority often reduces feelings of uncertainty

Following a trusted authority often reduces feelings of uncertainty


Persuasion researchers know that decision-makers will often place their faith less in what is being said and more in who is saying it. For good reason: following a trusted authority often reduces feelings of uncertainty. In today’s constantly changing business environment, it’s increasingly the messenger who carries sway, not the message.

Therefore, it’s crucial that you convince your audience you have the necessary expertise to make a recommendation – which can present problems if you lack credibility.

You need to be seen as competent and knowledgeable, yet recounting a list of your accomplishments, successes and triumphs, however impressive, will do little to endear you to others. No one likes a braggart.

But arranging for someone to do it on your behalf can be a remarkably efficient tactic in overcoming the self-promotion dilemma. Take, for example, a set of studies led by Stanford University’s Jeffrey Pfeffer, who found that arranging for an intermediary to toot your horn can be very effective.

Participants in one study were asked to play the role of a book publisher dealing with an experienced and successful author and read excerpts from a negotiation for a sizeable book advance. Half read excerpts from the agent, touting the author’s accomplishments.

The other group read identical comments made by the author himself.

The results were clear. Participants rated the author much more favourably on nearly every dimension – especially likeability – when the author’s agent sang his praises instead of the author himself.

Remarkably, despite the fact that participants were aware that agents have a financial interest in their authors’ success, and were therefore biased, hardly any took this into account.

In another study with estate agents, my team and I measured the impact of a receptionist introducing an agent’s credentials before putting through a call from a prospective client. Customers interested in selling a property were truthfully informed of the agent’s qualifications and training before the inquiry was routed to them.

The impact of this honest and cost-free introduction was impressive. The agency immediately measured a 19.6 per cent rise in the number of appointments they booked compared to when no introductions were made. So arranging for others to tout your expertise before you make your case can increase the likelihood of people paying attention and acting on your advice.

Remember that the same is true if your proposal is being delivered in written form.

When submitting a proposal or recommendation, avoid making the mistake of squirreling away you and your team’s credentials toward the end of an already full document. Instead, make sure that they are prominently positioned up front. – (Copyright Harvard Business Review 2015)

Steve Martin is the author of The Small Big - Small Changes That Spark Big Influence.


Previously published in The Irish Times.


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