The Curse of the Passionista: How to Make Your Passion Work For, Not Against You

By Amy ShowalterAmy Showalter

One of the most old-fashioned and overrated pieces of advice for any influencer is to “be passionate” about your cause. Some consider it the answer to all influence challenges, as if passion is 90% of successful persuasion.  If that were true, everyone would get what they want by showing some passion. But they do, and they don’t get what they want.

Because “being passionate” is easy on the ears, many people stop there with their influence tactics. But as you strive to get your projects adopted, make the sale, or win votes, you are the underdog and are engaging in upward influence. Persuading up the food chain requires different techniques; it is markedly different from peer-to-peer influence, and passion isn’t the panacea.

Are you a “passionista” and thus limiting your upward influence success? Ask yourself:

  • Do you come across as self-righteous, but think that you are simply acting on your convictions?

  • Is your request focused on how it will help you, or how your influence target can benefit by becoming a hero?

  • Do you get overly emotional when others disagree with you?

  • Will agreeing to your request make you a hero, or your persuasion prospect a hero?

  • Will your influence target make enemies by agreeing with you?

  • Do you engage in challenging influence situations when you are tired or low on energy?

The Curse of the “Passionista” In a research study conducted with powerful people regarding attempts to influence them, they were asked what persuasion tactics didn’t work. They used phrases like: “too emotional,” “can’t see the other side,” “fist bangers on the desk,”  “pushing me to make a decision quickly,” and so on. Think about it – those behaviors demonstrate passion, don’t they?

The problem is, they make your influence target think you are unpredictable. Let’s face it, when someone becomes overly emotional or raises their voice, we don’t know what’s coming next. And psychologically, being able to easily interpret someone and predict that person’s behavior feels good mentally and physically. It requires less work and, fair or unfair, human thinking is hard work that makes us uncomfortable, because then we have to think more about what this person will do next, and none of us like to think that hard. Don’t believe it?

Social psychologists have reviewed the brain waves of people asked to solve hard math problems and comparing those brain waves to when the same people put their hands into a bucket of ice water. The brain waves were the same both times. The researcher’s conclusion? Thinking is  physically painful! When your prospect has to think harder, they like you less, and less liking = less influence.

When Can You Parade Your Passion? When does passion work? According to the people interviewed, it’s when one of two conditions were present:  1) they would be a hero by agreeing to the request; and/or, 2) when they would make new allies, friends or supporters by granting the request.  You need to do your homework to find out what those instances actually mean to your target, as “hero” to one person is “zero” to another.

Can you Manage Your Passion? Passionate outbursts usually stem from a lack of self-control, so make sure your willpower tank is full before running full speed into upward influence encounters. The more reserve you have, the better you can cope with the unexpected; the less you have, watch out.

Here’s the good news: Willpower seems to get stronger with use. For example, increased willpower runs rampant in military training where recruits learn to overcome one challenge after another. Whatever the explanation, consistently doing an activity that requires self-control seems to increase willpower. This reflects a greater ability to delay gratification, which is associated with success in life. Build up your willpower muscle and see how increased self-control can assist in your efforts to persuade up the food chain.

Don’t lose the power of your own conviction, just exercise some self-control. Passion is best used judiciously when you can make the person you are trying to persuade feel like they are a good person by helping you.  When you’re on the wrong side—that is, you’re not helping your influence prospects win friends and be perceived as a good person, your passion can easily be interpreted as anger. And while anger can be interpreted as a persuasion tactic, albeit a crude one, after you do your fly-by and their ship is smoking and listing in port, you won’t have future influence opportunities.

Amy Showalter is the author of “The Underdog Edge: How Ordinary People Change the Minds of the Powerful…and Live to Tell About It.” She a speaker and consultant who helps organizations and individuals get powerful people on their side. Her clients include Southwest Airlines, Pfizer, The American Heart Association, NFIB, and International Paper. For more information on Amy, please visit showaltergroup.com or underdogedge.com. Amy can be reach at 513-762-7668 or amy@showaltergroup.com.

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About editor

Wordsmith Peter DeHaan shares his passion for life and faith through words. Peter DeHaan’s website (www.peterdehaan.com) contains information and links to his blogs, newsletter, and social media pages. Peter DeHaan is the president of Peter DeHaan Publishing, Inc., (www.peterdehaanpublishing.com) the publisher and editor of Connections Magazine and AnswerStat, and editor of Article Weekly.