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How to win friends and influence people in the 21st century

Read more on how you can influence people in this day and age.

Dr. Amanda Nimons on how to influence people in the 21st century

Dale Carnegie captured the world’s attention with his book, How to Win Friends and Influence People. Robert Cialdini had enormous success with his book, The Psychology of Persuasion. Besides the tremendous appeal of the topic of influence, what do these two books have in common? They were both published in the 20th century.

Now almost 40 years since Cialdini’s work was published, the ability to influence people and decisions at work is still in high demand. What has been missing is an approach that includes the last four decades of behavioural science research on the factors that influence people’s decisions and actions. Also missing was an approach specifically targeted to the 21st century workplace. After all, the world of work has changed enormously in the past few years, let alone since 1984.

Cialdini identified his principles while working in used car yards and at telemarketing firms. His approach to influence is grounded in selling a product. However, for most professionals in today’s business world, influence at work is not about winning a one-time sale with a customer you might never see again. Today’s professionals work in a global, interconnected environment where the outcome of your interactions can have a huge impact on your future business dealings. They need a powerful approach to influence and persuasion that builds lasting social capital as well as collaborative opportunities.

My research began in mid-2020 with an examination of studies in psychology and behavioural science from around the world. My goal was to go beyond common knowledge, and include research from Asia, the Middle East and Africa as well as studies from Europe and the US. The result is the Working with Influence model, a book based on more than 200 peer-reviewed journal articles revealing nine universal principles for increasing your influence at work.  

How to get started today

To begin increasing your influence over people and outcomes at work, let’s start with some examples of what people usually do, and how they could improve by applying some of these principles.

In our day-to-day communication with peers, managers, and clients, we often fail to express the value of our work in terms that are inherently valuable. For example, we say “this is an important project” instead of “the value of this project exceeds the combined value of every other contract secured this year”. Both statements can be true, but only the second results in the project being ranked as more important than other projects. Once your project is perceived as more important, it will be more likely to attract attention and resources. This is just one example of the application of Principle Four, which is Value Framing.

Value Framing involves modifying how an item is perceived by modifying the context within which it is presented. Value Framing works because the tendency to judge value in relative, rather than absolute, terms are not only universal in adult humans – it is true also for kindergarteners, Charles River rats, and even ants.

Principle Five is Effort. The Principle of Effort derives from the well-documented tendency of humans everywhere to take the easiest, lowest-effort pathway to the outcome they seek. You can see this principle in action whenever people take escalators that are positioned next to a set of stairs. Similarly, computer scientists can accurately predict the movement of pedestrians by identifying the routes from one location to another that represents the absolute minimum calorie expenditure for the people involved. There is even an inverse relationship between the length of a word and the frequency with which it is used. Whether the effort involved is physical or mental, the more difficult it is to do something, the less likely that people will do it.

Our default attempts to influence others rarely take this into account. For example, when designing a form, we rarely ask people for the absolute minimum information needed – instead, we ask them for anything we can think of that could be useful.

The easiest way to remember Principle Five is this: Make it easy; make it hard. If you don’t want someone to do something, you do not need to tell them “No”- just ensure that the task is difficult to do. If you do want someone to do something, first make it as easy as humanly possible. Then, be polite and ask directly. If the effort involved in complying with your request is sufficiently tiny, many people will not even need a reason to help you out.

Principle Six is Reasoning. The single most frequently used tactic in attempts to influence people at work is rational persuasion. This means providing a list of really good logical reasons as to why they should do what you ask them to do. Rational persuasion can work, but international meta-analyses show it is not as effective as you think it is. Further, we tend to believe that the more logical reasons we add to our arguments, the more convincing we will be. In fact, science shows the opposite is true. What we know from neuroscience is that decisions are far more powerfully driven by the prospect of reward, than by logical reasoning. Principle Six involves increasing your influencing power by identifying what would make someone deeply feel – rather than simply think – that your idea is a good choice.

It’s not a competition

When it comes to influencing at work, you don’t have to be the best influencer there ever was. Your goal should be to develop your skill so that your success improves relative to what it has been. The good news is that by using the Working with Influence model you won’t burn bridges, and you won’t weaken relationships, as you practice to improve your powers of persuasion. 

About the Author

Dr. Amanda Nimon-Peters is a Professor of Leadership at Hult International Business School in Dubai. Her book, Working with Influence: Nine Principles of Persuasion for Accelerating Your Career provides professional businesspeople with actionable insights to increase their influence in real and virtual workplace environments. Order it now on Amazon before the end-of-year rush.

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