How Certainty Drives Influence at Work

Wellness program managers can feel like the organization’s poor stepchild — last in line for table scraps and left to scrub the floors long after their more fortunate siblings are off to the party. But this can be a condition of our own making. If we’re not working to influence higher-level decisions, we get what we deserve.

But how do you have impact on the C-suite when proving ROI is next to impossible? Take a page from the presidential candidate playbook: Communicate with conviction. Politicians make their careers by being certain of their position. You never hear someone on the debate stage say “I haven’t thought about that… let me mull it over and get back to you.” Whether we agree with their position or not, we like certainty. 

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Begin with the position that you are the expert in worksite wellness. Yes, you want and need input across the organization, but you’re the one in charge of establishing a vision, creating consensus, and executing strategy. If you’re not prepared to accept that responsibility, you have little hope of getting what you want — and success could happen only by accident.

To improve your chances, try these 4 steps toward certainty… and ultimately influence:

  • Take advantage of the consensus effect. People are more confident in their opinions when they believe other people share them. Assemble credible data and testimonials that support your position. Use simple employee surveys asking questions like Do you agree you’re more productive at work when you eat healthfully and exercise regularly? Crafting questions that 9 of 10 people will agree with is easy. Just 1 or 2 data points like this plus employee quotes reinforcing the idea are hard to disagree with.
  • Repeat until it’s true. Repetition breeds familiarity, which engenders trust. You only have to watch a 24-hour news cycle to know the major candidates’ positions. They “stay on message” because research shows the more often we hear something the more assurance it fosters in voters. Use every venue to reiterate your message until those you’re trying to persuade repeat the message to themselves and others. Dynamic preachers are masters at this technique. Can I get an Amen?!
  • Make it easy to understand. We’ve all attended presentations where a slide is so cluttered that you can’t make heads or tails of it without a detailed (and often painful) explanation. If your audience has to work too hard at understanding, you’ve created uncertainty. Keep it clear, simple, straightforward, and on point.
  • Get others to defend your position. This may be the most effective — and most difficult — way to reinforce certainty. Making other influential employees advocates (using the first 3 techniques) for your wellness efforts deepens their own conviction and ability to inspire others. For example, if you want a supervisor to give you 15 minutes in safety meetings to promote well-being, enlisting their peer in another department to lobby for you may do the trick.

Persuasion isn’t about deception. Never take a position you don’t firmly believe in just to get what you want. But if, as the worksite wellness expert, you’re not getting the resources you need to do the job, establish certainty to strengthen your influence.


Dean WitherspoonDean Witherspoon
Chief collaborator, nudger, tinkerer; leads the most inventive team creating well-being and sustainable living programs. Reach out if you’d like to talk about employee well-being, emotional fitness, or eco-friendly living.