Skip to content
All posts

Personal Effectiveness and Influencing Others

To be effective, you’ll need to build skills for influencing others. 

Influencing others is not the same as manipulating or coercing them. It’s not the same as selling (although it may be a bit like selling an idea, at times). These mischaracterizations about influencing cause some to shy away from it altogether. That’s a mistake.

Graphic Showing Pulling from Different DirectionsSometimes people confuse influencing with persuading. That’s closer than the other comparisons. Let’s break it down and get to an effective approach that’s comfortable and authentic.     

What Is Influence? 

The dictionary defines influence as the capacity you have to be a compelling force on others or to impact others’ actions, behaviors, or opinions. It means when one person has an effect on another. 

The origin of the word “influence” is, from the Latin word influere, “to flow into.”

That part gets overlooked. Flowing into another is the softer, more natural depiction that’s needed to fully understand and feel okay about influencing. 

The typical mischaracterization is more of a hammer approach, harder and swifter with an implied force that’s somehow damaging to the recipient. 

Flowing into suggests something entirely different. It’s about merging and being considerate of the other person’s space and needs. That’s a more accurate picture of the goodness that can come from being influential.

What Works Best for Influencing Others? 

To flow into others, you first need an orientation to others. This demonstrates that you’re not selfish and concerned only about yourself (not manipulative, not coercing toward something self-serving, not selling for personal gain).

To be other-oriented, work on your soft skills and self-awareness. Build your power competencies and the 12 Dimensions of Trust. Ask yourself the hard questions like these and develop in the areas where you feel :

How Good Are You at Reading People?

People who are other-oriented can quickly pick up on social cues. They tune in fully and quickly notice others’ discomfort or shifts in the direction of the conversation. They can tell what matters most to other people and what topics and ideas excite them. 

Some people are unable to do this. They might be able to read people in social settings but, when it comes to reading people they hope to influence, they feel less confident and seem to lose this ability.

The reason this happens is that they’re not fully focused on the other person. They aren’t relaxed and natural in these conversations. They’re distracted by their own agenda and desire to influence the other person’s actions, behaviors, or opinions. That hyper-focus on the desired outcome inhibits the ability to stay “in the moment” and read what’s going on with the other person. 

It’s much easier to read people’s moods, motivations, and priorities when you aren’t focused on your own agenda. The first step is to understand what the other person is thinking and feeling. 

If you’re good at reading people, you have the potential to be good at influencing them. Think of people you hope to influence as books. They have a story to tell. The story isn’t going to change just because you want it to. But you can read it, as is, and seek to understand it. Once the story is fully told and understood, you can help write the next chapter. You earn that right by being other-oriented first.

How Effective Are You at Mirroring Others? 

Try this. Observe natural conversations between two people in a variety of settings. You can do this from a distance, no need to eavesdrop! Watch the body language, facial expressions, and mannerisms displayed by both people. You’ll notice that they tend to emulate each other in subtle ways. If one crosses his arms, the other does, too. If one tilts her head, the other soon does the same. When one sits back and stretches out, the other follows. Smiles, frowns, laughter, posture…. People mirror each other without even thinking about it.

You can mirror people on purpose, too. It’s a subtle way to break the ice and accelerate others’ comfort with you. This can’t, of course, be over-the-top and obvious. It’s best to choose a few subtle expressions when you’re doing this intentionally. Doing this will help you relax into a conversation and will also force you to be more other-oriented. 

Research on mirroring behaviors tells us that people feel more understood by others who mirror them, even when they aren’t aware that they’re being mirrored. When we mirror people, even intentionally, we accelerate our rapport with and understanding of them better. We listen more closely, understand emotions behind what’s been said better, and are quicker to pick up on changes in mood or sentiment.

It may seem like a cheap trick to mirror others on purpose. But it’s really no different than reminding yourself to smile when you first meet someone. Behaviors that are positive, affirming, and helpful to communication should be displayed as often as possible. What’s more, soon after you start mirroring someone on purpose, you’ll relax with them and begin it do it more naturally without even thinking about it.

Watching to see if the other person mirrors you is also helpful. If they like you, agree with you, want to make you feel comfortable, and understand what you’re saying, they’ll be more likely to mirror your expressions and body language. When you observe that someone is not mirroring you, it can be an early indicator that something isn’t quite right. There’s an unspoken objection, a resistance to your idea, or something else that’s interfering with the human-to-human connection you need to establish with this individual.

How Self-Aware Are You? 

 Self-awareness will help you with mirroring others authentically and with reading people. Additionally, you’ll need to understand how others perceive you and how your behaviors impact them. You have to accept your strengths and utilize them to overcome your weaknesses. Acknowledging your weaknesses and mistakes is an important part of developing self-awareness. Denying or distancing yourself from your faults won’t make them disappear. It will only make you seem immature and unwilling to improve yourself or take responsibility.

Once you have a good grasp on self-awareness, you will be better equipped to objectively read others. You won’t judge their behaviors as harshly or assume that it’s about you. You’ll be more accepting, and you’ll give others grace for their flaws. Having acknowledged that you’re not perfect makes your expectations of others more reasonable, too.

Now you can empathize and understand what’s going on with others. You will see more clearly how they’re affected by the problems they’re facing. You’ll be more effective in connecting with them in an authentic way.

When your relationship isn’t getting off the ground as quickly as you’d like, your self-awareness will also help you diagnose the barriers more objectively. You won’t be defensive or quick to blame others. You’ll consider how they might be responding to something you said or did that potentially breached their trust. You’ll feel more confident asking them to tell you what’s not working and what they would like to see you doing differently.  

With improved self-awareness, you’ll also become more observant. You’ll notice what others do that makes them effective in connecting with people. It will become more clear to you what you’re doing that draws people in and what you’re doing that pushes people away (even a little bit). As you make these discoveries, you’ll be able to fine tune your interactions and continually build soft skills that others respond to favorably.

Ironically, your self-awareness is the key to your other-orientation. When people aren’t self-aware but attempt to be other-oriented, it often backfires. They are accommodating but feel taken advantage of. They may prefer to serve others but they don’t get their own needs met. Other-orientation isn’t about self-sacrifice. It’s about making sure all parties (including you) get their needs met. 

It all adds up to becoming more influential. 

The Links between Leadership and Being Influential

Oftentimes, people dismiss their own need to be more influential. They associate influence with leadership. Since they don’t think of themselves as leaders, they opt out of activities that would build their influence. Instead, they defer to others and are more passive. They wait for instructions and permission rather than making suggestions and asserting themselves. 

In this volatile and chaotic time, we need more leaders. We need more people who are willing to step into their own personal potential as leaders. NOTE: this has nothing to do with titles, authority, or organizational hierarchies. 

Leadership is needed at every level. Know it or not, like it or not, there are people who look to you for an example and for direction. You are already a leader, regardless of your title, tenure, stature, comfort level, or experience. 

In other words, you already are a leader. But are you leading people in the way you really want to be? Are you taking them in the direction you want to go? If you’re abdicating opportunities to be influence others, chances are that you’re leading them astray. 

Specifically, these 10 tactics will make you more intentional, more influential, and more of a leader:

  1. Ask thought-provoking questions
  2. Listen effectively
  3. Show empathy
  4. Brainstorm to generate ideas together
  5. Discuss the pros and cons of various options
  6. Offer insights that are new
  7. Demonstrate genuine interest in the other person
  8. Follow through on promises or commitments
  9. Connect around common interests
  10. Do a little extra to show you care

This is the stuff that personal effectiveness is made of. 

To learn more about being assertive and influential, check out this free, on-demand presentation on the People First Channel. To continue learning about the importance of influence and leadership at every level, sign up for this free, fun, interactive workshop on People First Leadership Academy.

CTA_Logo_PFLA TLC Live_030923