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Use the Gator Brain to be More Influential

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Imagine that you have an important meeting tomorrow. Hard to imagine, I know. In that meeting, you want someone to say yes to you or take a specific action. How do you go about influencing them?

One common approach is to use logic. If we clearly explain all the reasons why our proposal makes sense, then surely they will see our reasoning and act accordingly. While this can work, it’s not always as effective as we think. There are other strategies that can complement your logic and make you more influential.

The Gator and the Judge

Dr. Zoe Chance, an author and professor at the Yale School of Management, shares an analogy in her book, Influence Is Your Superpower: The Science of Winning Hearts, Sparking Change, and Making Good Things Happen. She describes the human brain as having two parts: the gator and the judge.

  • The Judge: Our rational, logical brain. This is the newer part of the brain, evolutionarily speaking.
  • The Gator: Our emotional, feeling brain. This older part of the brain is heavily involved in decision-making and behavior.

To be more effective in influencing others, we need to address both the gator and the judge.

Strategies to Influence More Effectively

1. Make It Easy

Ease is one of the best predictors of human behavior. To get someone to say yes or behave a certain way, make it as easy as possible for them. Subtle nudges that remove friction are surprisingly effective. Use your creativity to make it easier for them to say yes to your request. Here are some example nudges for inspiration:

  • Using a one-click action on a home page versus multiple clicks through sub-menus.
  • Setting up opt-out options rather than opt-in.
  • Allowing actions to be taken directly from an email.
  • Placing healthy options like fruit up front and making less healthy options harder to reach.

2. Ask Directly and For More

Be clear about what you want and explicitly ask for it. Avoid implying it, dropping hints, or making a more generic request. It sounds obvious, but asking more directly, more often, and for more is one of the best ways to be more influential. And don’t be afraid to occasionally make a genuinely outrageous ask, they may surprise you and say yes.

3. Ask “What Would It Take?”

If you encounter resistance, ask what it would take for them to happily say yes or take action. This open-ended question encourages them to think about solutions and cooperation. Prepare a specific “what would it take” question for your request and a few other open-ended what or how questions to engage them in a problem-solving conversation.

4. Use Visuals to Convey Emotion

The gator brain is highly visual and drives much of our behavior. First, look for your emotional argument. What are the emotions that would make someone want to say yes to you? Then use vivid images or descriptions to evoke those emotions that will motivate action. This can happen subconsciously, influencing their behavior without them realizing it.

5. Use Yourself to Convey Positive Emotions

Your own emotions are a powerful influencing tool! As you prepare for the meeting, think and feel the emotions that you want to convey. If you do your inner work to genuinely feel those emotions, they should come through in your body language and tone. And the causation arrow also works the other way. Remember to smile, make eye contact, use an open and relaxed posture, and maintain a friendly tone. Positive emotions are contagious and can make others more likely to say yes.


These strategies can enhance your existing influencing tactics. While there’s no guaranteed method that works every time, addressing the gator brain can significantly increase your chances of success. Remember, influence is a skill that can be improved with practice. Now, go crush that meeting!

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