Deference is defined as “polite submission and respect”. But deference is often more powerful than we think it is.
The seasoned FBI hostage negotiator, Chris Voss, is a tough man. In his career, he has resolved the most difficult negotiations, with hardened criminals holding several people hostage. While deference and politeness is often seen as a sign of weakness, he considers a versatile tool in his negotiation toolkit.
One reason deference is effective is because of its universal applicability in a hierarchy. If you show deference to your superiors, they feel good because they feel entitled to it. If you defer to your peers, they feel good because you didn’t have to. If you defer to your subordinates, they see you as a generous and courteous person because they didn’t expect you to. Under all these circumstances, you earn the influence of the people you defer to, regardless of your position.
Deferring to people is different from being stepped over and taken for granted. On the flip side, perceiving it as a weakness is often a sign of insecurity.
Inspiration: Chris Voss on The Knowledge Project podcast