Being influential is not limited to those in positions of power and authority. You can be influential whether you are rich or poor, formally educated or not, employed or unemployed.
While some are naturally influential, others who are not, can learn how to. Excellence is a habit, and if you want to be excellent in influencing and persuading people, you should practice the habits of highly influential people.
1. Listen more, talk less
You have to listen if you want people to listen to you.
Researchers at Columbia University found “[E]ffective listening can also have important relational benefits. When people feel ‘listened to’ by would-be agents of influence their liking for, commitment to, and trust in the agents tend to increase, thereby expanding the agents’ influence power…”
Apart from the “relational benefits” you derive from listening, you also receive information, much of which can be useful in persuading people.
• Fight the instinct to do all the talking. Listening can be difficult because one’s thinking speed is greater than one’s speaking speed; the human brain can process 300-500 words per minute but only speak an average of 100 words per minute.
So your brain easily gets bored and distracted from listening. To counter this, try focusing your attention on organising the points of the person you are listening to in your head as well as your own thoughts. Use the time as an opportunity to think of what you will say next.
• Avoid interrupting the person you are speaking to. Cutting someone off is rude, and if you want to be persuasive, being rude is the last thing you want to be.
• Ask supporting questions. This is helpful in two ways: first, on an informational level, it helps you understand the other’s perspective more. Second, it reassures the person you are talking to that you understand his/her point.
2. Learn how to appeal to people
You might think that going by logic and avoiding fallacies is the best way to go, but even philosophers would agree that people have different standards on what can persuade them. Providing an ironclad argument might work for some, but not for all.
While breaking the rules of logic and argumentation is not a great idea if your goal is to persuade, you have to accept that you might sometimes have to drop the cold facts and go for an appeal to emotions instead.
True, facts are irrefutable and studies difficult to counter, but when it comes to the art of persuasion, sometimes, you will have to go personally. This means telling relatable stories to get your point across.
• Improve your storytelling skills. Not all people are blessed with this skill, but there are ways to learn to be better at it.
• Read on the different ways to appeal to people. Appealing to one’s emotions is one, but there are also other ways.
3. Do not be afraid to say sorry
Apologising is not a sign of weakness and submission. Instead, it shows the person you are talking to that you are rational and mature.
No one wants to believe someone who is not responsible and brave enough to own up to your mistakes. Just make sure to do it when you are genuinely sorry about something.
4. Treat people with respect and as equals
It is hard to influence someone if you treat them with disdain or look down on them, no matter how intelligent or informed you are.
The art of persuasion is not just about what you say. How you treat people and how you deliver your message greatly affects how much your words can influence them.
• Use respectful words and a humble tone when trying to get your point across. Avoid being aggressive as people are easily turned off by those who use crass words and a harsh tone.
• Avoid insults or being sarcastic. These are not helpful to your cause or the discussion, and they do more harm than good.
• Smile genuinely. People can usually recognise if you are faking a smile.
5. Give praise and criticism when it’s due
You have to show people that you are not cynical; you are not there to contradict them for the sake of it. One way to do so is by regularly expressing your approval and praise.
Many leaders and people in power only talk to their subordinates when there is something wrong – not when things are going well. To be influential, you have to make people aware that you recognise their good points as much as you recognise their bad.
This article first appeared in The New Savvy.
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