From the publication in 1936 of Dale Carnegie’s best-seller, How to Win Friends and Influence People, to the marketing world’s current exploitation of social media influencers to gain market share, the ability to influence has been considered key to success in business for decades.
So, what exactly is influence and why does it matter?
Merriam-Webster defines influence as “the power or capacity of causing an effect in indirect or intangible ways.” In the business world, that boils down to getting people to do what you want – not because you told them to, but because they are convinced it’s the right thing to do.
Dorie Clark, author of Entrepreneurial You, says that when you have the ability to influence, “You get more done and you advance the projects you care about and are responsible for.” According to Clark that translates into you being “more likely to be noticed, get promoted, and receive raises.” And while the ability to influence can benefit you personally, it also helps those you lead because they feel collaborated with and listened to rather than ordered about.
In today’s world of myriad digital distractions, taking the time and energy needed to build influence is harder than ever. We, and our colleagues, work so quickly and are often stretched so thin that learning how to build constructive influence sometimes falls by the wayside.
Below are a few suggestions that might help you build your influence as a leader in your company or firm.
1. Build Trusted Relationships. Building trust requires honesty and transparency. If a colleague does not trust you, they won’t be open to your influence. Share as much information as you can with co-workers. Don’t keep them in the dark or hoard information. When you share information, including your honest thoughts and opinions, you are not only showing colleagues that you are above-board and can be trusted, you are telling them that you trust them too.
2. Listen. Make sure your co-workers not only feel heard but are heard. Give people undivided attention. Ask detailed follow-up questions indicating that you are listening to everything. Put away your phone. Face colleagues when you talk to them and look them in the eye.
3. Be Consistent. If you are consistent in your work ethic, your abilities, your attention to detail, and in taking time to engage with colleagues, you will gain a reputation for being reliable. Unpredictability will chip away quickly at your ability to influence. In addition to trusting you and your judgment, colleagues need to know that you are dependable and that they can count on you.
4. Be Confident. When you present your ideas with confidence, people listen. If you hem and haw, implying that you’re not sure about what you’re saying, no one else will be either. By doing your research, knowing what you’re talking about, and being prepared, you will find it much easier to project confidence and self-assuredness. Note: arrogance is not the same as confidence, and there can be a fine line between the two. Do not let justified confidence become unjustified arrogance.
5. Compromise When You Can. Having influence doesn’t mean always getting your way. It means you know what matters and how hard to fight for it. Choose your battles. When you can adapt to the needs of others in a particular situation, you will gain their respect and appreciation. Plus, if you show a level of flexibility in your dealings, others are more likely to as well.
6. Be Personable. The old adage “you catch more bees with honey than with vinegar” has a great deal of merit. Be amiable. Don’t drag the mood of the office down. Show an interest in your coworkers. This doesn’t mean you have to be best friends with everyone or schedule unlimited social events outside of work, it simply means you should be enjoyable to work with. A little kindness goes a long way. If you are approachable and pleasant, colleagues will be more likely to give you the benefit of the doubt when processing your opinions and ideas.
Of course, many of the above suggestions seem fairly obvious once you think about them. The problem with so many of us today, however, is that we don’t think about them. We wander the halls of our offices looking at our phones. We multi-task when we are in meetings with colleagues. We can be curt or aggressive when we are overwhelmed.
Give yourself the luxury of time whenever you can. Fully research issues. Focus on co-workers when they are talking to you. Be consistent, friendly, reliable, and confident. You’ll soon find that you’re spending a lot less of your valuable energy trying desperately to sway people to your point of view because you have already done the groundwork and gained influence.
 Clark, D. (2017). Entrepreneurial You: Monetize Your Expertise, Create Multiple Income Streams, and Thrive. Harvard Business Review Press.