Ask, Show or Tell

Andy Walker
6 min readNov 3, 2022

A simple hierarchy for influencing people

Photo by Campaign Creators on Unsplash

Thoughout our personal and professional lives we communicate to influence people of a particular view point or course of action. The trouble is we’re not very good at it. It kind of isn’t our fault because we grow up being exposed to the least effective form of influence — being told what to do. This typically comes in the form of “don’t do that” or “do that”. Children absorb everything they’re exposed to and then repeat those behaviours so it’s no wonder that we grow up thinking that the way to get people to do things is to tell them. Telling is the least effective way of getting your viewpoint across. There’s little scope for engagement and we’re likely to run into reactance bias where people reject choices that have been made for them.

Later, if we’re lucky a manager or mentor or friend may take us aside and give us the timeless advice “show don’t tell”. To which we typically reply — “what do you mean?”. And this leads to one of the conversations which makes us so much more effective as people. Our guide explains that it’s not enough to tell someone that something is broken or is good we need to show it to them. We’ve just told them the work we’ve done is really good and they ask “how is it good?”. At this point we struggle a bit and maybe answer with “it’s really well thought out and works really well”. “Not good enough” is the reply — how…

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Andy Walker

Interested in solving complex problems without complexity and self sustaining self improving organisations.