People change their minds when their perceived personal balance of consequences changes. Sometimes you can change their actual balance. Sometimes it’s enough to change their perception of that balance.

Everyone has their own personal value equation – the trade-off between perceived relative benefits and perceived relative costs of different options.

Benefits are good: things that make them feel good about doing good for others, doing things they are good at, and things that are good for them.

Costs are financial, time, inconvenience and the like.

There are four possible changes

  • Increase the perceived relative benefits of the more desirable option
  • Decrease the perceived relative cost of the more desirable option
  • Decrease the perceived relative benefit of the less desirable option
  • Increase the perceived relative cost of the less desirable option

Let’s play out some examples.

Project Leadership

You want to change someone’s mind about leading a project. Think in terms of inspiring, enabling and empowering.

Inspire them by helping them understand how this project will impact others, give them new strengths, and/or personally reward them – increasing perceived relative good benefits.

Enable them by giving them the resources they need – decreasing perceived relative costs.

Empower them by giving them authority to make some of the important decisions – a benefit to them of having influence and mitigating the risk of others making bad decisions for them.


You want someone to invest in something.

Lay out the financial and non-financial expected returns on the investment compared to alternate options – increasing the perceived relative benefits.

Lay out ways to cap or stage the investment – decreasing the perceived risk/cost.

Hiring you

There are only three interview questions, ever. Will you love the job? Can you do the job? Can we tolerate working with you? Each of them has a benefit side and a cost side.

The will you love the job question is about motivation. But, it’s not about your motivation in general. It’s about your motivation to do this particular job. While your motivation may have some upside for potential employers, your not loving the job has much more downside. So, this is both about upside and about risk mitigation.

The can you do the job question is about strengths. You need people believe you have the talent, knowledge, skills, experience and, as warranted, craft-level caring and sensibilities. You can minimize their perceived risk by giving them concrete examples.

Similarly, the can we tolerate working with you question is all about risk mitigation. The further your personal preferences around behaviors, relationships, attitudes, values, and environment are apart from the organization’s cultural norms, the greater the fit risk.

Voting for your candidate

In some ways, elections are like making decisions after people have interviewed the candidates. The underlying questions are variations of the interview questions: Do you want the job for the right reason – so you can do good for others? Can you get done what we need you to get done? Do your values align with ours? While strengths can be built over time, motivation and values endure.

Alter the balance

Alter others’ balance by giving them new information. Do that by creating new facts or by making them aware of already existing facts, making them new to them.

In the project leadership case, this could involve changing the scope of the project or the resources available or explaining those in different ways.

In the investment case, this could involve changing the investment terms or explains existing terms in a different way.

In the job interview case, this could involve your learning new knowledge, practicing skills, gaining experience, mastering a craft, or providing new evidence of your existing strengths.

What you can do is driven at least in part by timing. If you have more time, you can change project scopes, materially alter investment cases, or build new strengths. If you have less time, making substantial changes will be more difficult. In those cases, focus on how you explain the existing situation or opportunity better.

Click here for a list of my Forbes articles (of which this is #819) and a summary of my book on executive onboarding: The New Leader’s 100-Day Action Plan.

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