We ended thefuturestory last Wednesday with a presentation from Dr Rob Yeung, director at leadership consulting firm Talentspace, author of more than ten books, and psychologist. He sounds clever, right? He is. His talk was about the science of winning friends and influencing people and what was brilliant about it for me was that he wasn't just sharing his opinions, he had data and research to back them up.

'What makes people successful at work?' was the question Rob put to the floor first. Answers like pro-activity, sharing success, entrepreneurship and relationships came from the audience, which lead to 'organisational savvy' from Rob. Apparently people who get 'organisational savvy' report greater career satisfaction and advance more quickly at work. Rob went on to talk about the four sub-skills of organisational savvy:

1 - social astuteness - Rob asked us to stand up and write a capital E on our foreheads with our writing hand. Those who wrote the E facing outwards were thinking of the way their audience would see it whereas those who wrote it the other way around were thinking of the world from their own points of view. It’s important to put ourselves in other people’s shoes and look at things from the perspective of our audience.  People feel most happy when they have been empathised with.

Research shows, by the way, that most senior professionals within an organisation write the E facing inwards, meaning they perhaps find it difficult to take other people's views into account and see the world from different perspectives. (Just to note, I wrote my E for my audience...ahem.) If you'd like to try this at work, below are the instructions!

Letter E exercise

Letter E exercise 2

2 - interpersonal flexibility - the skills of 'push' (assertion) and 'pull' (respect). Rob asked which statement was truer for us:

'I am able to say 'no' to unreasonable requests.' 'I look for ways to be helpful to the people I work with'.

The majority of the audience put their hands up agreeing with the first statement - unsurprisingly - but of course, there was no right or wrong answer. The point I think, was that to be influential you need to combine the push and the pull.

There was also a story that Rob shared about (in short) setting three groups off on a negotiation  task with different instructions.

  • One to take the client’s perspective
  • One to be empathetic
  • One with no instruction.

Results showed that 76% who looked at the negotiation scenario from the client's perspective were more successful. 54% were successful in the empathy group, 39% successful in the no instruction group. interestingly, and from the client's point of view afterwards, the client preferred the empathetic group. Rob went on to clarify that empathy and  perspective are very different; empathy is about feeling and emotion and  perspective is about taking a cold hard look at goals, they are not the same and both need to be 'switched on'.

We then talked about the what 'push' and 'pull' actually look like:

What does push and pull look like

I think this really made people think about the amount of times at work, or even in life in general, we respond to conversation with passivity. To be good leaders, people need to be good at relating to others, and keep their targets in the forefront of their minds - a healthy balance between push and pull. Which then brought us on to the topic of feedback: research shows that people who are getting feedback face to face are getting more watered down feedback then when it's written, and better still, when it's written anonymously.

Rob told us to beware of the 'above average effect' and not to fall into the trap of believing our own hype - this can be kept at bay by seeking brutally honest feedback frequently.

3 - networking - research shows that people who spend more time building internal relationships are more satisfied at work. Those who maintain internal contacts progress the most at work.

4 - demonstrable integrity and sincerity - 'demonstrate' is the important word here - you've got to communicate, we're all so busy at work that sometimes we forget to explain or expand, to put reasoning behind requests.

And Rob left us with some final thoughts:

  • Consider that empathy and perspective-taking need to be consciously switched on
  • Use 'push' and 'pull' to influence appropriately
  • Give people permission to give you truly candid feedback
  • Consider that understanding is not the same as implementation.


All in all I found the presentation to be a truly thought-provoking and interactive one from Dr Rob Yeung, and I couldn't help but assess my relationships, both social and professional, on the train home - and remind myself to exercise my 'push' and 'pull' skills at work a bit more! I could have listened to Rob all day, and hope to hear him speak again in the future.