Every time we meet and interact with someone we have the opportunity to influence and impress. Being able to influence others is not about power or manipulation, but about presenting yourself in the best possible light to be able to reach a positive outcome.
Unfortunately, most of us do not consider how we come across or how we impact on others. Here are a few hints and tips on how to influence.
Making it count
We make decisions about a person within the first 30 seconds of meeting: background; class; educational attainment; sexual orientation; even down to the type of car she might drive or what newspaper he might read.
We need to think about how we ‘present’ ourselves first, then work out how to adapt our message to build rapport and influence others.
Start with body language
What are you actually saying?
Research by Dr Albert Mehrabian showed that 55% of our communication comes from our body language, followed by our tone of voice at 38% and words at just 7%.
That does not mean that what we say is unimportant, but that our tone, body language and words all need to be congruent. Otherwise our message is likely to be confused at best and disbelieved at worst.
When we meet people we can begin to influence them immediately through our handshake. A good handshake is not too firm or soft but meets the ‘grip level’ of the other person. So, if their handshake is firmer than yours, increase your grip; if it’s softer, loosen your grip. A poor handshake – a limp fish or a knuckle grinder – shouts a very clear message and can reduce your likelihood of influencing that person. We should also have good eye contact and a smile (if appropriate to the situation).
In a meeting
When standing or sitting it is best not to be directly opposite the other person, which could be perceived as aggressive. Stand or sit at a 45-degree angle to one another.
It is difficult to influence if you are reclining back in your chair or sitting so far forward that you look anxious. Sit with your bottom to the back of the chair, your back relaxed rather than staunchly upright (which looks aggressive or anxious), your head at right angles to your body and your arms relaxed on the arms of the chair, or on the edge of the table. If you are sitting comfortably and looking confident you are more likely to feel confident, and so speak with gravitas. The other person will also feel more relaxed in your company and so you are more likely to influence them.
Influencing in a meeting is also about where you sit. If you are sitting at a rectangular table with the decision maker at the head of the table, the best place to sit is the second or third seat to their right-hand side (or left-hand side if they are left handed). In this way you are in their line of sight and near enough to catch their eye when you want to speak.
Nodding has also been shown to help to influence. When someone is talking, nod at appropriate intervals to show agreement; three nods in quick succession has been shown to be most effective!
Know yourself and others
Even if we are only selling an idea or building a different approach to a situation, we ‘buy’ from others who we think are like us. (This is why we often recruit people who are similar to us.)
Who are you talking to?
So, once positive body language has been established it is worth thinking about how the message itself will be conveyed. It is useful to have an understanding of your own personality and the personality of the person you are hoping to influence. There are several psychometric tools that may be useful in helping to understand yourself and others.
Myers Briggs is one of the most widely used of the personality indicators. It will tell you whether you are introverted or extroverted, prefer to look at the big picture or the detail, make decisions based on your values or objective criteria and whether you like to do things last minute or prefer to plan. By understanding your own and others' preferences you can adapt your style and message to meet their needs. By presenting information in a way that meets their preferences you are more likely to influence them.
For example, if you need to present a proposal, consider whether the person you want to influence is a ‘big picture’ person or prefers detailed information up front. For a ‘detail’ person you will present the detail first and then move onto what it means for the bigger picture, presenting your idea according to their preference. You will still cover all the information; it’s just that your starting point will be different.
Another way to analyse people is to think of each person in terms of one of four different personality types. Psychologists Robert and Dorothy Bolton argue that people can be:
Analyticals will be precise and systematic and prefer having data and details presented to them. Amiables will be supportive and easy going and will want to know how decisions affect people. Expressives will be enthusiastic and imaginative and want to be engaged with energy and passion. Drivers are determined, single minded and objective and want briefer meetings with objectives clearly identified, top line information and decisions made quickly. If you have a mix of people with different styles in a meeting you will need to adapt to meet the needs of each person.
Adapting your style doesn’t mean that you are denying who you are. It just means that you are being flexible enough to communicate with people in a way that is right for them.
If you can do that you are more likely to get your message across in a way that will be received well and influence effectively. Given that life is a continual pitch, it is in everyone’s best interest to present ourselves well and communicate in a way that gets the best out of every interaction.
As Dana May Casperson, author of Power etiquette: What you don’t know can kill your career says, ‘It takes only three to five seconds to make a first impression, but it can take a whole career to undo it.’
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