Influence: A Key Component of Success

By Denise Miller Holmes

The ability to influence people’s beliefs and actions is absolutely a powerful component of success. And, the example of Founding Father Samuel Adams (second cousin to Founding Father John Quincy Adams), and bold citizen of the colony of Massachusetts, shows us certain smart tools he used to convince the Royal Governor to remove two regimens of British soldiers from Boston.

Let’s look at the incident that Sam Adams responded to in order to make profound change—the Boston Massacre. Then, we’ll analyze the tools he used to influence the Elite’s decision-making.

In 1770, a British soldier accidentally discharged his musket into a Boston crowd. A melee ensued, and after the confusion ended, five people were found dead. This crisis gave Sam Adams all he needed to push for change and actually be heard.

The publicity of this “massacre” went all over the colonies and filled the local Boston papers. Soon after, there was a throng of three thousand protestors who gathered around an old Boston church. The protesters insisted that both regimens of British soldiers leave Boston.

The problem was that the Royal Governor—Thomas Hutchinson—was in favor of keeping the Brits in control of Massachusetts. So, there was little hope of relieving Boston of oppression.

However, Adams, a local congressman, saw his opportunity to make change. First, as soon as the fallout from the Boston Massacre was clear, he began gathering petition signatures in order to convince the governor to expel the Brits.

During the three-thousand-strong protest, Adams asked for an audience with Governor Hutchinson and got it. When Adams delivered the petition, he verbally requested that the regimens be removed, then said this:  

I am in fashion and out of fashion, as the whim goes. I will stand alone. I will oppose this tyranny at the threshold, though the fabric of liberty fall, and I perish in its ruins!

I only understood about half of that quote, but let’s just say it was similar to Patrick Henry’s, “Give me liberty or give me death!”

Now let’s take a looksee at why Hutchinson figured out his goose was cooked and agreed to expel the British from Boston. You might be surprised to find out it was tools and techniques that saved the day. These strategies are still viable in modern times, so pay attention:

  1. Excellent Communications and Persuasion Skills
    Adams was known in Boston as the owner of the newspaper, The Independent Advertiser, and as a skilled writer. He persuaded with opinion pieces that addressed the angst of the day and exposed the actions of the Crown in America.
    The people of Boston also knew him as a persuasive orator, who could give an engaging speech. Perhaps that was because he was a local congressman and was practiced in debate and persuasion. (I will suggest some books at the end of this article that will teach these skills.)
  2. Social Proof
    Adams used the Social Proof principle to overwhelm resistance. He struck his verbal blow with three thousand protestors outside, and a signed petition with substantial enough numbers that the governor could not ignore the fact that he must act.
  3. Passion
    Adams’s speech to the governor has been described as impassioned. His statement that he was immovable and would stand against the British occupation, no matter who disagreed with him, increased his influence over people’s thoughts and actions. It’s difficult to walk away from people who are boldly passionate. You tend to want to stand with them. It wasn’t only his verbal skills that were impassioned, his actions were also fervent. He struck when the iron was white-hot. Perfect timing!
    Passion fuels the flame of any message and a little goes a long way. Use it, but use it wisely.
  4. Act During a Crisis
    This is another tool that must be used carefully. You’ve heard the axiom, “Never let a crisis go to waste,” attributed to Winston Churchill. This is the axiom that Adams used intelligently.
    The Boston Massacre and the subsequent protest of three thousand were the crises he needed to open the ears of the powerful. (To be clear, there is no evidence of a riot at the protest site, only a protest!)
    An activist must be self-disciplined to use this tool and know how to aim it at the problem. Adams knew persuasion and oratory before the crisis, so it was not a high learning curve to act while the iron was hot.
    A note of caution: there are the unscrupulous out there that will create a crisis to get what they want, even if it causes death. Oh so naughty. Don’t do that!

Before you despair with an I-can’t-do-what-Sam-Adams-did attitude, remember that these tools and techniques are skills you can learn. I learned about Social Proof from the book called Influence by Robert B. Cialdini. He has six other tools besides Social Proof to use to persuade others. Powerful book!

I have a cool book called Writing to Persuade: How to Bring People Over to Your Side, by Trish Hall, and a great book on public speaking, Speak Like Churchill, Stand Like Lincoln, by James C. Humes.

So, let go of the tired “I can’t” belief. Successful people know this stuff. They had to learn it. You can too. And when you do, be prepared for a self-image boost. When you hear yourself thinking “I can”, you’ll know your new knowledge is giving you confidence. As Martha Stewart says, “That’s a good thing!”

Historical Note: Thomas Jefferson defended the soldiers who (accidentally) started the Massacre. They were found “not guilty.

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