Once upon a time, on an auspicious day in history, you were born—influential. In fact, influence was your only means of survival. You had no sharp teeth or claws to protect you. You couldn’t run away or camouflage yourself. You didn’t seem that smart yet, but you had an innate ability to express your desires, connect with other human beings and persuade them to take care of you. Which they did, day and (sleepless) night, for years.
When you learned to speak, you expressed yourself more precisely, using your words to become even more influential. You told people what you wanted and what you absolutely did not want. You learned quickly that life could be negotiable and began asking for later bedtimes, more television, your favorite treats. You were like a tiny carpet merchant in a Moroccan bazaar. Wielding influence was as automatic as breathing. You were growing physically stronger too, but your greatest strength was the power to persuade people to take action on your great ideas.
Interpersonal influence is our human advantage, passed down in our DNA. It is what allowed our species to band together, work together and span the globe. It will remain our advantage in an increasingly digital world, for as long as people are in charge. It has given you the success you already have, and it’s the path to what you’re still hoping to do. It’s the love you’ll share in this life and the legacy you’ll leave behind when you die.
But things aren’t that simple, are they? Even though you know that all this is true, influence got more complicated as you grew up. While your childhood sphere of influence was expanding, you were also being taught to be obedient and play nice. To comply with norms, rules, parents and teachers. You were discouraged from being “bossy” or demanding. You were taught to work hard in order to be deserving, wait your turn, not make waves, not take up too much space. Advocating for other people was OK, but doing it for yourself was boastful. The influence you had once enjoyed no longer felt so natural, and you began to have mixed feelings about it.
When people are asked if they’d like to be more influential, they say yes—because influence is power. Being influential gives us the ability to create change, direct resources, and move hearts and minds. It acts like gravity, pulling us together into relationships. It’s a path to happiness; to prosperity that’s meaningful, durable and contagious.
When you become someone people want to say yes to, you are heavily rewarded. Money might not be your top priority, but it helps you get other things done, and it can be a benchmark for influence. It’s no coincidence that jobs relying on interpersonal influence are well compensated. Top salespeople make more money than their CEOs, lobbyists earn more than the politicians they influence. Becoming more influential pays other tangible dividends too—doctors who communicate better are far less likely to be sued for malpractice regardless of their patients’ outcomes, and executives who are trained to communicate get rated as better leaders.
I find that kind people are particularly reluctant to try to influence others because they don’t want to manipulate anyone, and smart people are more likely to misunderstand the way influence works. So if you’re a kind, smart person, you have a double liability that keeps you from being as influential as you could be. But as you shift your perspective and practice some new tools, you’ll find some of these obstacles melting away.
Here are 10 misperceptions we’ll explore:
1. Pushy = influential.
Actually, the opposite is true. Being influential requires being influenceable. And making people comfortable saying no makes them inclined to say yes.
2. If they understand the facts, they’ll make the right decision.
Because the mind doesn’t work the way we think it does, facts are far less persuasive than we think they are.
3. People act on their values and their conscious decisions.
We all want to act on our values and conscious decisions, but the gap between our intentions and our behavior is a vast abyss. Changing someone’s mind doesn’t necessarily mean you’re influencing their behavior (which is the goal).
4. Becoming influential involves persuading disbelievers and bending resistant people to your will.
No, the success of your great idea depends on enthusiastic allies. Your efforts to find, empower and motivate them will go much further than your efforts to overcome people’s resistance.
5. A negotiation is a battle.
The more experienced a negotiator is, the more likely they are to be collaborative—which makes them more successful.
6. Asking for more will make people like you less.
How they feel about you depends more on how you ask than how much you ask for. And when both parties (including you) are happy with how things work out, they’re much more likely to follow through.
7. The most influential people can get anyone to do anything.
This isn’t how it works, which is a good thing, both for them and for you.
8. You’re a good judge of character and can spot a con a mile away.
Unfortunately, we’re all terrible at lie detection. But I’ll show you some red flags to watch for so you can protect yourself and others from people who would use influence to harm you.
9. People don’t listen to people like you.
A voice might be telling you that to get other people’s attention, you’d have to be more extroverted, or older, or younger, or more attractive, better educated, more experienced, the right race or a native speaker. In this book, you’ll learn to speak so other people listen—and listen so they’ll speak.
10. You don’t deserve to have power, or money, or love—or whatever you secretly wish for.
Influence doesn’t flow to those who deserve it but to those who understand and practice it. And soon, that will be you.
Reading this book will make you more knowledgeable about influence, but it’s really wisdom and impact we’re after. Knowledgeable people win trivia contests. Wise people listen with open minds and healthy skepticism, asking, “How can I improve on that idea?” and “Who else needs to know this?” That’s the spirit in which I invite you to engage with this book.
This approach to influence is about connecting to the powers of persuasion you were born with and strengthening them in order to make life better for everyone, starting with you. It isn’t rocket science, but it is a science. It’s also a love story.
Excerpted from INFLUENCE IS YOUR SUPERPOWER copyright © 2022 by Zoe Chance. Used by permission of Random House Group, an imprint of Random House, a division of Penguin Random House LLC, New York. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Photo by @deea.olteanu/Twenty20
Zoe Chance teaches influence and persuasion at Yale School of Management. Her research has been published in top academic journals like Proceedings of the National Academy of Science and Psychological Science and covered by the Harvard Business Review, The Economist, BBC, Time, Forbes, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, and The New York Times. Thinkers50 named Zoe one of the world's top up-and-coming management thinkers. Her framework for behavior change is the foundation for Google’s food program, helping 70,000 employees make healthier choices every day. Before coming to Yale, she earned a doctorate in marketing at Harvard, worked in sales jobs like door-knocking and telemarketing, and managed a $200 million segment of the Barbie brand at Mattel. Her TEDx Talk, How to Make a Behavior Addictive, has nearly 700,000 views.