Popular management class aims to teach students “how to be influential”
The class, offered by the Yale School of Management, hopes to combat the stigma that being influential is the same as being manipulative.
Courtesy of Zoe Chance
One of the Yale School of Management’s most popular classes teaches students how they can achieve what they want without hurting others.
The course, titled “Mastering Influence and Persuasion,” is taught by assistant professor of marketing Zoe Chance. Chance began teaching at the Yale School of Management in 2013 and said that she is often forced to reject hundreds of applicants from the course because it is so oversubscribed.
“Power-hungry individuals are the ones who end up being influential, leading to the negative connotation of influence,” Chance said. “The goal of the class is to make influential people and [to form the type of] people you want to say yes to.”
The class has a challenge-based approach. Each week, students have to complete three different types of challenges: a “getting” challenge, a “giving” challenge and a “gratitude” challenge, Chance said.
“Being influential does not mean that people are obstacles to getting what you want,” Chance explained. “Doing great things together involves collaboration.”
This collaboration is the core of the “getting” and “giving” challenges. According to Chance, by asking for what they want, people are taking care of themselves, and by giving, they are building goodwill so that people will be willing to help them achieve their goals.
Natalie Ma GRD ’13 GRD ’17, now the co-founder and head of business development at the biotechnology startup Felix, said that Chance’s course helped her become aware of what she needed — precisely the goal of the “getting” challenges.
Chance said the “giving” challenge also helps with the shame that many individuals experience when asking for something. This is especially the case at Yale, where being at Yale in and of itself is a privilege, she added.
“‘Gratitude’ is a resilience exercise that helps us come back from when we don’t feel so great,” Chance said. “Asking and trying to be influential involves a lot of failure.”
The challenges vary in nature. For one “gratitude” challenge, known as the hero challenge, students have to write to a person who has made a difference in their lives without asking for anything in return.
Chance said that her students wrote to people like Sheryl Sandberg, Mark Cuban and many other influential individuals. She said that many students received responses and some even received job offers.
“My favorite challenge was the empathy challenge,” Ana Victoria Gil SOM ’21 said. “We had to listen to someone who had a different point of view from us without a rebuttal.”
Gil posted on social media looking for someone to speak with who believed abortion should be illegal. She ended up connecting with an old friend and said she finally better understood that viewpoint, even though it was so different from her own.
Gil, in fact, ended up becoming Chance’s research assistant through one of the course’s “getting” challenges: the rejection challenge. She wrote a letter to Chance, dated for after the last day of the course, asking to become a research assistant. Gil said she expected to be rejected, but instead, Chance offered her the position.
Although this course is offered through the School of Management, undergraduate students are able to audit the course. Chance has been attempting to offer credit for this course to Yale College students.
“In the past the Yale College administration said the class was too practical,” Chance said. “But people get credit for language classes all the time, and this is far more intellectual.”
Currently this class is not available to the public, but Chance is working on a Coursera version of the course set to be released this summer, titled “How to Ask for Anything.”
Chance has also written a book, titled “Influence is Your Superpower: The Science of Winning Hearts, Sparking Change, and Making Good Things Happen,” which captures the essence of her class and is set to be released on Tuesday.
“The book goes much more in depth and is beyond the class,” Gil said. “The class is experiential snippets of her book.”
Chance’s course, “Mastering Influence and Persuasion,” will be offered in fall 2022.
Clarification, Feb. 2: This article has been updated with the full title of Chance’s book.