One of the key ways for entrepreneurs to set themselves apart from the crowd is by building influence. Many people assume that influence is an inherent trait linked to confidence and charisma, or that it comes with awards and titles that carry more weight.
However, anyone can build influence with the right dedication and a clear strategy. Persuasion is not a natural talent—it’s a skill that can be honed over time. Influence involves intention and planning using a similar formula that has been applied for centuries. If you want to increase your ability to influence, there are a few key steps you need to take. These steps include:
- Connect with the people around you.
People often think that influence means talking and directly persuading, but becoming an active listener is just as important. If you listen actively, you get insight on what drives the people around you emotionally. This knowledge helps you understand the factors that play into their decisions.
Demonstrating this understanding is a great way to connect to people and advance conversations. When people feel like you understand their motivations and needs, they become more willing to share with you. On the other hand, if you don’t listen actively and become distracted, you’ll lose people from the start. Emotion is one of the most important factors in influence, so learning to listen to others should be a top priority.
- Ask questions to engage more fully.
While it may sound paradoxical, questions are the most persuasive form of verbal language. Asking meaningful questions will help you build stronger relationships by demonstrating a true interest in other people. Of course, you need to learn how to ask questions that are engaging. Start with some open-ended questions and then continue to dig deeper by asking “why.”
Getting to the root of an answer takes more time, but digging deep can give you a better sense of what drives the person you’re talking to. People do not do things because of your reasons, but rather their reasons. Until you understand this motivation, you will not be able to influence to your full potential. Use the knowledge of what drives people to inspire them.
- Act with integrity and consistency.
Influence is not something that you can achieve overnight. Psychologists have shown that integrity needs to precede persuasion. If you want to influence people, you must have already demonstrated integrity and gained the trust of those individuals you hope to reach.
Integrity is something that comes with consistency. Be reliable. Demonstrate to people that you have their best interest at heart by showing genuine concern for them. Once people understand that you aren’t just out to get ahead, they usually become more open to your thoughts, opinions, and advice. Act with authenticity and show people that you are trustworthy.
- Confront suspicions and objections openly.
One key to building influence is never making another person feel like they’re in the wrong. As soon as you question someone else’s intentions, they usually become defensive and you will lose your influence with them. A better approach is to listen to criticisms and objections from others and address them openly. Dealing with issues head-on confirms your strength and shows that you are open to being vulnerable.
In the end, no one has the power to address your shortcomings and weaknesses better than you. Dealing with these issues upfront gives you power over the narrative and boosts your credibility. By tackling problems immediately, you can often address other people’s concerns before they escalate, which can in turn hurt your credibility.
- Use your expertise to educate others, rather than telling them what to do.
One of the core drivers of influence is education. By educating others, you empower them to be proactive and solve their own problems. As individuals realize the value of this education, you will gain more influence. Rather than telling people what to do, teach them how to make their own decisions.
“Education” in this sense doesn’t mean a classroom. For example, some of the most effective approaches involve storytelling, especially with metaphor and analogy. Use stories that have relatable experiences and push people in a particular way without providing directions. Remember: the best way to persuade people and build lasting influence is to help them persuade themselves.
- Challenge people to grow.
The other core driver of influence is the ability to challenge people to become better versions of themselves by learning from their failures and raising their personal standards. Challenging people to be better shows them that you believe in them and have faith they can achieve their goals. By challenging people, you get their attention and energize them.
Challenging people doesn’t mean confronting them with their problems, or making them feel bad about themselves. Keep it positive—affirm what they could achieve if they took some action or made a change. When people step up to the challenge, praise them sincerely for the work they have done to remind them what they’ve accomplished. People often forget to look back to see how far they’ve come. Helping people realize their own achievements can boost your influence with them, especially if they connect their growth directly to you.