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A Dozen Ways to Influence Others

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Ever since Dale Carnegie published his book on How to Win Friends and Influence People, everyone from politicians to salespeople and spouse hunters has looked for ways to bring people around to a different way of thinking or a different course of action. The following tips are based on the latest research about how to influence others.

  1. Get a Group Behind You. Other people are one of the major influences on decision making: a small group of people who all believe a particular decision is the right will influence the rest of the group to agree. Some research shows that if 25% of a group concurs in a decision, the rest will go along. The pressure of agreeing to a group will even influence people to act against their own best interests or their own belief of right and wrong.
  2. Tell a Story. Throughout history, people have been influenced by stories that connect to their previous experience or that show the logical outcome of actions. The story you tell has to be logical, build to one obvious conclusion, and keep your listener’s interest if you want it to influence others.
  3. Keep Your Goal in Mind and Don’t Worry about Credit. Your goal is to influence people in a particular direction. If they believe that the group decided or that they decided themselves based on the information received, they are more likely to take the direction you want. If you insist on credit, you may make them feel manipulated and used, losing both your goal and your chances of influencing them in the future.
  4. Take the Other Person’s Interest into Account. Everyone has their own goals and their own stories; if you want them to adopt yours, you need to understand their perspective. For example, you influence a financial leader with your willingness to consider budget, a marketing person with your willingness to factor in consumer trends, and so on.
  5. Show Confidence. Your confidence in yourself gives other people confidence in what you are proposing. Whether you agree with a decision or disagree, the confidence you show will influence whether others consider your viewpoint or dismiss it.
  6. Make Up for Lack of Control. If you join a group at work that has already taken a decision or action you disagree with, you can still influence the outcome by looking at the parts of the decision or action where your participation can make a difference. For example, you cannot control whether the company downsizes, but you can offer support and references to members of your team who are let go.
  7. Change the Perception of a Situation. You can influence others, even when they are overwhelmed by a situation, if they can convince them to look at the situation differently. For example, if a situation is approached as the challenge rather than a problem, people are more likely to offer solutions, including innovative solutions they may not have ever considered.
  8. Provide and Accept Feedback. When you let people know you are invested in them, they become invested in you. Feedback also allows you to course correct when necessary. You cannot maintain your influence if you have no idea what others are thinking—or if they have no idea what you are thinking.
  9. Find Points of Agreement. People are more likely to be influenced than people like them. An analysis of over 300 studies of this “like attracts like” phenomenon showed that the effect diminished the longer people knew each other. A long relationship allows for more disagreement. Nonetheless, your influence increases when you do not criticize or judge people, but look for points of agreement.
  10. Study Nonverbal Communication. The way you stand, the expression on your face, and your ability to interpret other people’s nonverbal clues all contribute to your ability to influence. Crossed arms and tight lip show disagreement and resistance regardless of what the person is saying; leaning in and tilting one’s head show attention.
  11. Be an Expert. When people trust your knowledge, they trust you. A 2012 study posits that the same part of the brain that equates value with money also equates expertise with value. The study even identified the area of the brain—the orbitofrontal cortex—that responded to the advice that had the greatest influence over their decisions.
  12. Be Genuine. When you give people false information or a false impression about yourself, they penetrate it and stop trusting you. Your chances of influencing them diminish the more they interact with you and discover that you have been pretending.

Perhaps the most important of all these tips is the last one. We influence people by who we are. Thus, people with bad intentions are just as likely to influence others to adopt bad behaviors as people with good intentions influence good behaviors.

Influence becomes manipulation or control when we look for “the win” instead of “the win-win” and when our goal is our own self-aggrandizement rather than the growth of the other person. Thus, influence is neither positive nor negative: the intent and the effects make all the difference.

Key Takeaways

Your influence increases when you have the support of a group—and you can gain that support in many ways, including through your expertise, your self-confidence, your genuine interest and concern, and your ability to reframe a situation so that options become apparent.

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