Updated: Jul 18, 2020
A lot of people are asking HOW they can help. Some people are in positions of power and know how they can help. Some know they come from privilege, but they do not know how to use it. When these people ask how they can help, what they’re really asking is “How can I use my privilege to influence change?”
Peaceful protests with passionate calls for change, petitions on social media with powerful messages, and boycotts are all effective ways of influencing governments and organizations to act. Threats, aggression, profanity and violence can elicit fear and that can cause Americans to dig in deeper to their existing beliefs and resist change. So, the loudest voice in any societal debate can be the sheer number of reasonable and passionate voices that drown out the small, angry mob on Twitter.
We have seen proof of this as the peaceful protests have grown worldwide in support of Black Lives Matter. In fact, real change may be happening. One example is in New York State, which took quick action to reverse a law that previously protected police officers who used excessive force or had a record of brutality.
In my book, “Communicating During a Crisis: Influencing Others When the Stakes Are High,” I talk about the difference between people who communicate versus those who influence. Being a change agent is not only about what you say, it is about how you say it and how you are perceived by others.
Consider any number of politicians across the political spectrum. Some speak in a way that incites anger and discord, while others are adept at how they say things, which then influence their constituents to take an action. As an example, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo did a good job communicating at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Whether they liked Cuomo or not, New Yorkers listened to what he was saying, because he was an authoritative voice that did not speak in an authoritarian way.
I have broken down influencing others into a formula: Communicating + Influencing = Action
When it comes to communicating, your message needs to be timely, transparent and truthful and your tone needs to be calm, confident and compassionate.
When it comes to influencing others, there are three key components: respect, believability and trust. If you are someone who is demanding, quick to anger and sews derision, then you are not going to be as effective at influencing people as someone who is confident, trustworthy and able to engage people in dialogues as opposed to disputes.
A friend who read this blog before I posted it said that I should be careful about telling people not to be angry. You can be angry, but if you pick a fight with someone, you lose your opportunity to influence them—I write about this extensively in both of my books. There is an art to disagreeing with others. You can be passionate and strong in your delivery, as many great leaders have been, without the blaming and shaming that provokes defensiveness and further intolerance.
Joanna Dodd Massey, Ph.D., MBA is an author, corporate speaker and communications consultant to companies, Boards and executive teams. She has worked for more than 20 years as a C-level communications executive and Board Director managing brand reputation, corporate turnaround, crisis communications, culture transformation, and multi-million-dollar P&Ls. As a Doctor of Psychology, she advises companies and executive teams on all matters relating to communications and change management. Dr. Massey is also a corporate speaker and trainer, as well as author of the books, Communicating During a Crisis: Influencing Others When the Stakes Are High and Culture Shock: Surviving Five Generations in One Workplace. In addition, Dr. Massey is an adjunct professor at Columbia University, where she teaches a masters-level course in corporate communications.