I’m proud to announce my new book, Insights into Influence: The Strategies, Tactics, and Secrets of World-Class Leaders and Social Scientists.
This book is an anthology of thought leadership and science-backed insights from data and behavior experts, neuroscientists, and influential leaders about building and honing professional influence, and in putting it together, I had the honor of talking with twenty incredibly smart people about their experiences researching, developing, and wielding influence in their specific fields.
The result is a collection of conversations that are chock full of fascinating anecdotes, thought-provoking research, and actionable strategies for building influence, wherever you are in your career. But there were also a few themes that showed up over and over throughout the book, and I wanted to take a moment to share some of my favorites.
Influential Leaders Strike a Balance Between the Familiar and the Novel
Are you more likely to be persuaded when you know you and the other party have some common ground? Grant, along with McCombs management professor Ethan Burris and MeowWolf cofounder and CEO Vince Kadlubek all discuss the importance of finding common ground by confirming your audiences’ intuition before hitting them with new information.
As a fairly new father of three, I think a lot about how much my kids love both familiarity and novelty. So I asked Kadlubek, a futurist known for novelty, about blending the two to build influence. “Once you develop a predictable foundation and structure,” he says, “you are free to explore the unknown. […] Can I develop a predictable, familiar, connected base and then—and then—go and venture into the unknown and bring people along with me?”
And Burris echoes that sentiment from an academic perspective:
“Most people go into conversations thinking that they already know a whole lot about the topic. This is especially true with some of the subjects I teach, like leadership and team engagement. Everyone has experiences with leaders and coworkers, after all. ‘I’m going to change the way you think about leadership’ is a hard conversation to initiate. I have to think about how I can set up the conversations to create that opening, that receptivity that may allow my students to reconsider some of their assumptions.”
But once you’ve built that foundation by surfacing the audiences’ assumptions and validating their existing beliefs in some way, the real key to influence is introducing novelty. According to Kadlubek, that is the space where the magic happens.
Humor Is a Powerful Tool for Influence
Several of the experts I spoke with cited humor as an important tool for building influence. It can be used as a tool to build trust, foster a sense of safety, or simply lighten the mood, encouraging audiences to let down their walls and open their minds to new ideas.
Wharton psychologist Adam Grant particularly emphasizes humor’s power to let down defenses: “Evolutionary psychologists have written about this, saying that one of the supposed evolutionary functions of laughter is to signal safety. If I can get people laughing, they’re less defensive when I share something that might challenge their beliefs.”
And both Omaze CEO and cofounder Matt Pohlson and Black List founder and CEO Franklin Leonard both cite it as a tool for bridging gaps and building connections:
“One of the most compelling things about making your argument is doing so on the merits of the case, but on some level you also want to imply, ‘Yo, it’s more fun over here with this point of view,’ too.”
“Humor is an incredibly powerful tool for creating connection. One of our core values at Omaze is that laughter is the shortest distance between two people.”
Of course, some people who want to hone their influence feel like humor is off-limits because they’re “not funny.” Pohlson counters that concern by reminding us that humor isn’t necessarily all about large-scale comedy. Sometimes, it’s simply about being able to shut off your ego and laugh at yourself as a way to break the ice and establish trust. “It’s less about telling jokes,” he says, “and more about having the ability to laugh at yourself. And anybody can do that.”
Influencing Others Requires Understanding Others
Finally, more than half of the people I spoke with emphasized that, if you want to influence anybody, you have to start by understanding how their brain works and what kind of messaging will appeal to their particular personality and viewpoints. Dr. Burris refers to this as using different “currencies” of influence based on what an audience needs. Biological anthropologist and human sexuality expert Helen Fisher puts it more scientifically:
“I study the biology of personality— some 50 percent of who you are. And I’ve been able to prove that we’ve evolved four very broad styles of thinking and behaving that align with our dopamine, serotonin, testosterone, and estrogen systems in the brain. So I would get to know who someone really is on these four biological scales and then treat them the way they want to be treated.”
Cognitive neuroscientist Carmen Simon, social psychologist Julia Minson, and several others also emphasize that we cannot influence someone until we understand where they’re coming from. In today’s political climate, these conversations about how to engage with people we disagree with are fascinating. Congressman Derek Kilmer, in particular, talks about how he’s been successful in aligning with colleagues on the other side of the aisle by a shared goal—even though their rationale was completely different:
“For me, it was about helping poor people save money. For my colleague, it was about something entirely different. But the point is, I managed to bring him to the same conclusion. I had to be comfortable with the fact that we got there in different ways. We were both flexible.”
In short, if we want to be influential, the first thing we need to do is listen to the people we want to influence, so that we can speak their language, framing our goals to show our audience how they’ll benefit, too.
Creating this book has been an incredibly eye-opening process for me, as each influence expert I spoke with taught me something new about the way I approach leadership in my own life. I hope reading it will do the same for you.
If this preview has piqued your interest, I invite you to visit TheInfluenceBook.com and order your copy. Still on the fence? You can read my chapter over on Medium.