Influence is the art of winning people’s cooperation when you do not have, or do not want to use, the authority to make them do what you want them to do. It involves shaping the way people feel and think.

“Power lasts ten years. Influence not more than a hundred.”
-Korean Proverb


1. Make people feel understood.

Spend less time trying to make people understand what you want, and more time making them feel understood. In an ideal world people might make decisions, commitments, and judgments based on logic and sound reasoning. But in this world people act in response to their preferences, feelings, and social influences they’re not even aware of. If they trust you and feel that you care about them, they are much more likely to cooperate with you.

2. Find common ground.

Show people how their needs, values, and dreams mesh with yours. To do so, you have to understand their values and concerns. See things from their point of view. Be sympathetic with their feelings. Then show them how cooperating with you can help them achieve what they want.

3. Listen.

Listening is the best way to make people feel understood and, at the same time, to find common ground. Ask open-ended questions, the kind that invite people’s careful consideration and honesty. Try to understand what people mean, without getting hung up on the literal meaning of their words. And acknowledge their thoughts and feelings (which isn’t the same thing as agreeing with them).

4. Don’t argue.

In business (and at home, too) the person you defeat in an argument today may be the person whose cooperation you need tomorrow. Arguments make people stake out positions and defend them. And the more you try to prove them wrong, the harder they will resist you. People may feel overwhelmed and stop arguing with you. But that doesn’t mean you’ve won them over. Most of the time, when you win an argument, you lose an ally.

5. Care about the people you want to influence.

If you are concerned about the people you’re trying to win over, if you value their needs and dreams, they’ll know it. And they’ll reciprocate. They’ll communicate more freely, speaking their mind more openly and listening more attentively. They’ll give you the benefit of the doubt. And they’ll want to cooperate.

6. Help people believe change is possible.

People often know, although they won’t often admit, that they need to change. They feel a vague uneasiness, sensing that things won’t pan out the way they want. But they persist in doing what they’ve always done, thinking they’re doing the best they can. Show them a better way, but more importantly, convince them that it’s possible. Don’t just give them a solution. Offer them hope.

7. Time your request well.

There’s a time and a season for everything, especially for asking for support. When people are feeling stressed out, anxious, angry, resentful, or threatened, they’re not really receptive. Do what you can to reassure them and to make them feel safe, and you increase your chances of winning their support. Look for “moments of influence,” times when they feel capable and confident, and make your best case then.

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See also Projecting a Commanding Presence.

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