Stop Trying to Change People
Before we continue, let’s make one thing clear: When it comes to influence, there’s a difference between trying to get a specific outcome from someone and trying to change them altogether. Influence is about shifting a person’s specific mindset regarding a particular situation. Take, for example, trying to get your kids to do their homework—this is a short-term goal that, if strategized correctly, can be achieved relatively quickly. However, trying to get your kids to understand the value of a good education and how their academic performance will affect them into adulthood is a whole different ballgame. Here you’re trying to change their inherent values, a long-term process that requires a great deal of time and effort.
Influence isn’t about permanently altering someone’s character or long-established belief system. People change because they want to—not because you want them to. And if you truly want to effectively influence someone, you must first open yourself up to understanding their perspective.
When people see you powering down your phone and stowing it away, this signals how much you value them and, in turn, demonstrates the importance of this interaction or the significance of your connection. More important, you’ll be able to observe and read them better if you’re giving them your full focus, which will allow you to pick up on behavioral cues that you might have otherwise missed.
Remembering People’s Names
Dale Carnegie said, “A person’s name is to that person, the sweetest, most important sound in any language.” And he’s right. Because our name is directly linked to our personal identity, we like hearing it. Researchers looked at how our brains react when we hear our own name, compared to hearing the name of someone else. When our name is called out, regions in our medial frontal cortex and superior temporal cortex—the areas responsible for how we judge ourselves and our personal qualities—are activated, which makes us feel good.
Don’t demand respect. Command it. The respect you seek must start with you.
Evy wrote, “I was a female Special Agent for more than twelve years in a male-dominated profession. I wish I could say that during my career everything was fair, that I was always treated justly and as an equal, but that wouldn’t be true. The path I walked was difficult at times and I faced many adversities along the way. But over the course of my career, I learned that I couldn’t force others to respect me or see me as their equal. Once I came to accept that, I no longer allowed other people’s opinion of me to determine my self-worth, my demeanor, or my performance. I achieved what I wanted to in the way that I wanted to do it, and then I let the results speak for themselves.”
The measure of your success should not be respect. The measure of your success should be your resolve to carry out your particular purpose or mission in a way that brings you pride and satisfaction. At the end of the day, the person whose opinion matters the most is your own.
When you come to this realization, you free yourself from caring so much about what others think of you. You may want someone’s respect, but you don’t need it.
You should always have important or sensitive conversations with employees or colleagues in a way that preserves people’s dignity. When you publicly reprimand others—even if you’re in the right—people will often try to preserve their own dignity by responding defiantly or confrontationally.
Asking The Right Questions
Asking the right questions is a relatively simple technique and, paired with active listening and identifying red flags—this will pay dividends in influencing and persuading those around you.
Ask: Open-Ended Questions
They are invitations for someone to give you longer, personalized answers to an inquiry. For example: “Tell me about your meeting.” Closed-ended questions, by contrast, can usually be answered quickly and concisely with a “Yes” or “No” response—for example, “Did your meeting go well?”
Open-ended questions are useful for four main reasons:
- You don’t have to work as hard to get information. In most cases, the other person will offer it willingly.
- By inviting someone to follow their own train of thought, open-ended questions allow you to see what is really happening within a person’s mind.
- Open-ended questions give you time to assess and observe someone while they speak, rather than putting the onus of the conversation back on you.
- Open-ended questions invite someone to tell you a story, and storytelling can offer a wealth of information
Avoid: Leading Questions
Leading questions do exactly what they say—they guide a person toward telling you what you assume to be true rather than what they know to be true. If I were asking a witness for information about a suspect’s vehicle that I think may have been used in a crime, I wouldn’t ask a leading question like “Was the car a red or brown Chevy?” Even if I had prior knowledge of the car in question, I’d be careful to keep my questions open-ended. Here’s why:
First, it would be leading the person to assume that the vehicle has to be a Chevy, when it may not have been. There is always a chance that my assumptions or prior knowledge could be incorrect. Second, it would be leading the person to think that the vehicle could be only one of those two colors. Color can be subjective, and therefore someone’s perception of red or brown might be different from mine. They might interpret those colors as maroon or beige.
Avoid: Compound Questions
When you ask multiple questions within the same question, it’s called a compound question. These sorts of questions can be difficult for people to navigate or answer accurately. Here’s an example: “Did you enjoy reading this book, while finding it informative and useful?”
The problem here is there are three different questions being asked.
- Did you enjoy reading the book?
- Did you find it informative?
- Did you find it useful?
Each question is asking something specific and distinct. So if a person answers “Yes,” you’ll have no way of knowing which question they’re answering “Yes” to.
Avoid: Assumptive Questions
Assumptive questions are just what they sound like—they’re designed around assumptions. Law enforcement detectives are notorious for asking these types of questions, either as a way to trick a person into confessing or hurrying along an interview. An example of this would be “When you went into the house, did you see the money?”
When to Use Closed-Ended Questions
As we’ve already discussed, whenever you start any conversation, it’s best to begin by asking open-ended questions. It’s only later in the conversation when you want to know specific information that you should start asking close-ended questions. By asking too many closed-ended questions at the beginning, you’ll wear yourself out by attempting to obtain individual facts rather than allowing the person to offer their information openly and freely. Or worse yet, you’re giving them the opportunity to say as little as possible. Remember, when the aim is to gather information, the goal is to get the other person to do most of the talking.
The word empathy is defined as the ability to emotionally understand another person by assuming their point of view. However, a lot of people think of empathy as being synonymous with weakness. They see an empathetic person as someone who is gullible and easy to manipulate psychologically. Empathy, in fact, is a strength. It utilizes your discernment and powers of observation. By being empathetic, you become a better negotiator, which is why empathy should be your weapon of choice in your arsenal of communication strategies.
One quick distinction: Being empathetic is different than being sympathetic. Empathy is another important part of rapport in making people feel understood: “It sounds like the loss of your mother was really difficult for you.” Sympathy, on the other hand, is sharing in the pain and suffering of another person: “Losing a mother is a really hard thing to go through.” The problem with sympathy is if you haven’t directly experienced what the speaker has expressed to you—say, in this example, that you haven’t lost your mother—your comment comes across as disingenuous and your sincerity seems fake. When that happens, you will almost instantly lose your connection to the person.
Looking in the ‘Mirror’
The next time you’re in a social gathering where two people are actively involved in a conversation, such as a restaurant, coffee shop, or a friend’s party, pay attention to the way they’re standing or sitting. If they’re thoroughly enjoying each other’s company, many times you’ll see their body positioning looks exactly alike. They may both be standing with a hand on one hip as they lean toward each other or they might be sitting with their elbows resting on the table. They may even take a drink at the same time. And if you’re close enough to eavesdrop on what they’re chatting about, you’ll often hear their speech patterns and voice volume match as well.
What you’ve just witnessed is called mirroring, or sometimes known as mimicry. When two people fall into communicative sync, their verbal and nonverbal behaviors will align and mirror one another. For the most part, this process occurs unconsciously, such that if you bring it to someone’s attention, they’re usually unaware it even happened. Mirroring takes place through speech, paralinguistics, and body language, and multiple research studies show that it can play a big role in facilitating rapport.
If you’re in an important meeting and want to use your influence to create a positive outcome, a great strategy would be to mirror the body language of the person sitting across from you. If they have a hand cupped under their chin, you might do the same. If they lean in toward you, you should lean in as well. This will physically signal that you’re on the same page.
All this said, you should be mindful that if you’re ever “caught” intentionally mirroring someone, all bets are off. You’ll be regarded as untrustworthy and whatever rapport you built up to that point will likely be lost. Mirroring is an effective influencer, but like all persuasion skills, it must be subtle and works best when it goes unnoticed.
Keeping Your Ego in Check
One of the most common ways for communication to fall apart is when we get wrapped up in our egos. We make everything about us and fail to look at a situation from another person’s perspective, not taking their values and feelings and circumstances into account. If you want to communicate well and influence behavior, you need to tap into your humility. Because it’s not always about you. In fact, getting out of your own way is the only way you’re going to get what you want, which brings us to the next strategy…
Do you care whether people like you or not? When Evy asks a large audience the same question, there’s usually a fair number that say “No.” We’ve entered an era in which being likable is no longer a popular quest. It’s almost cooler to be hated than to be liked. Think about the sorts of clichés we’ve gotten used to seeing on reality TV (“I’m not here to make friends!”) or on social media when people brag about having haters. In fact, not caring about whether people like you has almost become a badge of honor. Some supervisors might say that they don’t care if their employees like them, so long as they’re doing their job. If you’re one of those people who don’t care whether people like you—well, you should. Your likability affects all of your relationships, both professional and personal. And science shows that people are more likely to work well and listen to people they like.
You can’t dismiss the importance of likability. If you’re likable, people will gravitate toward you, opportunities will open up, and life will become easier in myriad ways. Now, Evy’s not saying you should go around trying to please people all the time. We tend to equate likability with being a people pleaser, and that is definitely not what she’s advocating here. This isn’t about being a pushover or overly polite. You can still say “No” when you need to. In fact, if you care about your likability, these sorts of boundaries will probably be better received if others like you.
Sounding Just Like Them
Listen to the way people speak. Take into consideration who they are—their age, culture, intellect, emotional intelligence, etc.—and speak to them in a way they can relate to.
One of the things you don’t want to do, however, is try to match a person’s accent. Research shows that when we try to match the accent of the person we’re talking to (British, Australian, etc.), it comes across as disingenuous and ruins whatever rapport was previously built.
Paralinguistic influence, like the other principles discussed in this book, is a two-way street. So pay attention and always ask yourself, “Do I like this person a little more now than I did a few minutes ago?” If the answer is “Yes,” then you’re also now a little more susceptible to being influenced by them.
In a study that looked at how physical temperature affects people’s perception of others, researchers found that when someone experiences the feeling of warmth, such as holding a warm cup of coffee, they will subconsciously judge the originator of that warmth as more trustworthy, friendly, and likable. Interestingly enough, the opposite is also true. If Jim had handed you a cold glass of iced tea, for example, you would have seen him as less friendly and more likely to interfere with your plans for success.
Priming comes in many forms. Whether through our use of specific words, the way in which furniture is arranged, even the lighting in the room—these can all affect the way in which the person being primed (the primee) feels about their environment, themselves, and the person priming them (the primer). Imagine yourself walking into an immense well-lit corner office with overstuffed couches and floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the cityscape. Sitting on the conference table is a large pitcher of coffee, two uncapped bottles of water, and a few magazines, one of which is opened to an article about your start-up company.
Research shows that when people are exposed to words that carry a certain meaning, they’ll adopt the persona of those words. In a fascinating study regarding this phenomenon, two groups of participants were asked to unscramble words in a sentence. One group was given words that, unbeknownst to them, all described elderly stereotypes, such as: Old, forgetful, wrinkle, Florida, dependent, helpless, gullible, and bingo. The second group was given neutral words that had no associated stereotype, such as: Thirsty, clean, and private. After the participants finished unscrambling the sentences and left the experiment, researchers surreptitiously timed how long it took them to walk down the hallway. The participants who had the elderly scrambled sentences walked slower! That’s the power of priming.
Now that you’re aware of how priming works, there are several things you can do to make it work in your favor… besides walking around all day asking people to hold your warm cup of coffee. The next time you’re in an important business meeting, consider having it in a place where there are windows to the outside world, which promotes openness. If that’s not possible, then have an open pitcher of water or some open books. Lighting is obviously important; just make sure the person you’re meeting with is in a good mood. It really helps to plan your opening lines ahead of time. Those first few sentences prime the direction the entire conversation will go.
Harnessing Physical Space
According to cultural anthropologist Edward Hall, there are four socially acceptable distances that correspond with those feelings.
- Intimate space: Direct contact up to 18 inches. This distance is reserved for only those we’re most intimate with, such as lovers, close family members, and children.
- Personal space: 18 inches to 4 feet. This distance is shared with our close friends and family members.
- Social space: 4 feet to 12 feet. This distance is for strangers, people we just met, and acquaintances.
- Public space: 12 feet+. This distance is best for giving public speeches or interacting with an audience
The inside of most police interrogation rooms are usually a few chairs, a table, a two-way mirror, and not much else. This is where the use of proxemics comes into play. Most interviews begin with the investigator sitting directly across from the person being questioned. Sometimes there’s a table between them; sometimes not. Based on proxemics, how far away should the investigator sit in order to make the interviewee feel most comfortable? Assuming they’ve never met, about four feet, which places them firmly in social space. As the interview continues, what oftentimes happens is the interviewer will move closer to and farther from the person they’re talking to. Why?
Being a highly skilled negotiator means being capable of getting into a person’s intimate space—it can be as simple as putting a hand on their shoulder as a sign of assurance or briefly touching their arm to redirect their attention forward. These professionals know the value of touch and the effect it can have on people talking. Of course, physical contact should be made only with consent from both parties.
Conversely, when a good negotiator moves away from the person, oftentimes rolling back in their chair, it’s to give the impression that what’s being said is either not important or they disagree with it. Now, this isn’t to suggest that every time you close the gap between yourself and the person that it automatically strengthens your emotional bond—it doesn’t. In fact, I’ve seen instances when the person will actually lean back in their chair trying to reclaim some of that lost space. If that happens, rather than forcing your way into a person’s personal space, try to wait for a nonverbal invitation (eye contact, body alignment, forward posture). You don’t want whatever rapport you’ve established to get lost due to the invasion of personal space. Just like with mirroring, you need to be subtle about using proxemics to influence someone.
Owning Your Mistakes
We all make mistakes. Some are small and some not so small, but the fact remains that they happen. We’ve all been taught that mistakes are terrible, a source of shame that will tarnish us forever. Frankly, that’s true only if you don’t take accountability for them. Here’s the thing—many mistakes are inevitable and forgivable. Yet, no mistake is worse than failing to own up to it. It’s a matter of character and integrity. There is truly nothing more inspiring than when people make an honest and thorough appraisal of a mistake and take full responsibility for their own errors or lapses in judgment.
The same is true of your accomplishments. Take ownership of the things you do, whether they’re good or bad. And remember that no one wants to follow anyone who shirks or cowers away from taking responsibility. We all fuck up. But how we recover from our fuckups is how we differentiate ourselves.
Mike Tyson was asked if he was worried about his opponent who was preparing for the fight against him. Tyson’s response to this question was: “Everyone has a plan till they get punched in the face.”
At some point, everyone has experienced what happens when things don’t go according to plan. Say you’re preparing for a meeting or a negotiation. You’ve got it all laid out. You know all your talking points, what you’re going to say and when, how the room will be laid out, where you’ll stand, everything. But then on the actual day, nothing goes as planned. Your car stalls in the driveway and won’t start. You call a car service and they’re twenty minutes later than they said they would be. You arrive late to the meeting and can’t get the projector to work. Then your slides are out of order and the one person you were counting on being there to support you called in sick. How would you fare under these circumstances? Would you roll with the punches, or would you be so caught off guard that you’d stumble through the presentation and forget all of your talking points?
Rigid people are the most dangerous people. Because they don’t know how to adapt, they become tethered to the one narrative they have created in their minds. They become unable to pivot so when life delivers a blow, it’s almost impossible for them to recover. A breakup or the loss of a job could send them into a tailspin because they haven’t worked to develop their adaptability. Don’t let a bad five minutes in your day—a traffic incident, disagreement with a friend, anything—ruin your entire day or week. You have power in how you react to setbacks, and being able to move on is a skill worth cultivating.
Giving People a Choice
One of the things we desire as individuals is the ability to choose for ourselves. We call this autonomy. Autonomy is being able to have a personal choice, which gives you a sense of control and independence. In an interview room, those choices were pretty limited, but they still existed. “Which chair would you like to sit in?” Or “Would you like something to drink?” In our personal lives, autonomy may come in the form of “Where would you like to eat?” Or “What movie would you like to see?” Although these may not seem like much, when it comes to influence, having a personal choice pays dividends.
The next time you’re at a meeting with a colleague or a new client, if it’s appropriate, give them a choice:
“What would you like to drink?”
“Sit anywhere you like.”
“Where do you want to eat?”
“When works best for you to meet?”
Remember: People will be more willing to compromise and work with you if they feel that you’ve already extended courtesy and flexibility toward them, so offer autonomy wherever you’re willing to give up control so you don’t have to surrender it for those things you truly care about. Give when you can so you don’t have to give when you don’t want to.
Everyone Is Your Mentor
There are two prevailing myths about mentorship. The first is that seeking out a mentor is the key to our success—that we need someone to guide us, give us advice, and keep us focused. For anyone who has access to someone like this, consider yourself lucky. But what about the rest of us who don’t? If we never cross paths with someone of this caliber who is willing to help us reach our full potential, are we screwed?
The problem with this notion of mentorship is that it fosters a psychological sense of dependence on another. It tells us that in order to be successful in life, we need somebody else to get us there.
The truth is, you don’t need a helpful teacher, a witty uncle, or a supportive boss to help you reach your goals. In some ways, it’s better if you don’t. By relying on that one person to steer you clear of life’s pitfalls, how will you ever learn from your mistakes? How will you become resilient when faced with rejection, or confident in your decisions after your mentor is gone? Worse yet, how will you ever know whether the thoughts in your head are organic to you or a mere carbon copy of someone else’s?
The second myth when it comes to mentoring is that we need direct access to that person. Just like the first myth, this too is untrue. Maybe it was true in a time long before the Internet or the library, when communities were small and the primary source of wisdom was the town elder. But today, we have access to whomever and whatever we want. And by access, I don’t mean personal direct access—I mean we have the ability to watch, listen, and learn from everyone, whether they live next door, the next state over, or on the other side of the world.
The next time you see someone you admire or even despise, ask yourself, “What is it about this person I can learn from?” Perhaps it’s the confident way they enter a room or their friendly smile. Or it might be the unflattering way they speak to their wife or how they seem to complain about everything. Each observation, both good and bad, can become your guidepost
There’s Power in Solitude
Being alone has gotten a bad rap in our culture. There’s an assumption that the more friends we have, the better we’ll feel about ourselves, and so many of us do everything we can to constantly surround ourselves with other people. We often feel that in order to be most productive, we need to be in the presence of others. That may be true if the task is a cognitive one where collective brainpower is being harnessed to generate a vast number of ideas. But when it comes to our personal productivity, we’re actually better alone, away from the distractions of others.
Spending time alone also boosts personal effort. When we’re part of a group, the amount of effort we exert actually decreases compared to when we’re working on the same task solo. This is referred to as social loafing. Take a walk by yourself. Wake up before anyone else and spend time journaling or sipping on a cup of coffee while the house is quiet. Find a secluded place to meditate. Sit on a park bench and people watch. Take a weekend trip alone. The point is to find moments in your day, even if just for a few minutes, to step away from the chatter of the world and find quiet clarity within.
The Problem with Comparing
Whether we admit it or not, many of us define our place in this world by comparing ourselves to others. We base our accomplishments on someone else’s failures and compare our shortcomings to another person’s success. We use others as barometers to assess our strength and beauty as well as our wisdom and wit. There is nothing unjust about being a competitive person. In fact, individual rivalry has been ingrained in our character throughout our childhood, beginning with grammar school grades, homecoming votes, and SAT scores. Competition is what motivates us, but it’s how we compete that drives us to become better—or unhinged.
Every ounce of energy you waste worrying about someone else’s progress or performance is one less ounce of energy you can spend on yourself, on building your skills and making your own strides forward.
Creating a Bulletproof Mind
When you find yourself struggling with the weight of everything and desperately needing to come up for air, there are some simple things you can do to help. Whether you use them for a daily pick-me-up or something right before a big event, these “influencers” can give you the strength and courage you’re looking for.
#1 THE BULLETPROOF MOVIE
Research shows that watching a movie can set complex processes in your brain to work toward shifting your psychological mindset. This is what allows us to get swept up in a movie, to internalize the struggles of a protagonist we relate to and rejoice in their victories. Personally, Gladiator and the Rocky movies are Evy’s go-tos. Every time she watches them, she feels mentally inspired and physically stronger. Her internal supply of resilience gets replenished, allowing her to charge into any of the challenging situations she’s facing.
When we watch movies that uplift and inspire us, those sensations linger long after the movie is over. Pick a movie that mirrors a current problem you are struggling with in your life—hopefully it’s not Titanic. Not only will it offer an emotional release, it will also motivate you to take action,
#2 THE BULLETPROOF SONG
Music is another tool you can use to influence your mind in a more positive direction. A study came out recently that adds another important piece of information as to how our brains process music. When we satisfy our desire to eat, sleep, or reproduce, our brain releases dopamine—the “feel-good” neurochemical that elicits experiences of pleasure and reward. It turns out that this same chemical is released when listening to music as well.
Find a song that makes you feel invincible. Try listening to it every morning, either on your way to work or school or before a significant event. If you’re typically nervous or self-conscious before presenting at a meeting, the right song might give you just the lift you need to walk in with your head high.
#3 PHYSICAL FITNESS
Another great resource for influencing your mindset is a regular workout routine. Working out will make you not only physically strong, but mentally as well. Plus, working out releases endorphins, which positively influence your mood. Try setting aside time in your daily schedule to devote to your fitness and boost your mindset.
Additionally, our posture affects our mood. If you spend your day slumped over, you’ll likely end up in a bit of a mental slump as well. Posture checks are a useful way to make sure that you’re standing or sitting up straight, shoulders back, chest open. The mind follows the body, which means that shifting how we physically carry ourselves can shift our mindset just as much.
Evy wears a bracelet that has POSTURE CHECK written on it. Every time she look at it, it reminds me to adjust her posture—which turns out to be dozens of times a day. Research shows that certain kinds of “power postures” can make us feel stronger. If you want to give this a go, try the Superman or Wonder Woman (or Superman) pose: Feet apart, firmly planted on the floor. Hands on hips. Chin up.
#4 EXTREME EXPERIENCES
Now, for those really daunting situations, like quitting a job or leaving a bad relationship or anything that feels terrifying or overwhelming, there is another tier of tools you can try.
Odd as it might sound, extreme experiences like skydiving, bungee jumping, or race car driving are a great way to help you overcome other fears in your life. Jumping out of a plane prompts a spike of fear no matter how many times you do it. At the same time, it is empowering as hell to deliberately defy that F3 response. Even if the obstacle you need to overcome has nothing to do with planes or a fear of falling, research shows that facing one kind of fear can make others feel less overwhelming. These experiences can also help you feel more proactive and creative about solving your problems.