A leader’s ability to influence others depends on the specific tools she has in her arsenal. Below you’ll find a number of principles that can increase your ability to persuade ethically. Although the principles are clear—old-school manipulation is history; the empathetic win-win is in—the specifics of how to adopt and master a natural style of influence can be elusive without tactics that support the strategy. Here are 10 approaches that, when combined and implemented, will exceed the sum of their parts in making you a more persuasive rather than manipulative source of influence.
Approach 1: Thee Visibility Principle
Advertising professionals know that people gravitate toward the familiar. This is known as the exposure effect, in which familiarity breeds affection rather than contempt (that is perhaps more a domestic fact of life). This idea aligns with the concept of cultivating trust to become a better influencer: People trust what they know and understand, and they are skeptical of what they don’t know and don’t understand, even if on the surface it appears to be positive. Enlightened persuaders make sure to get plenty of face time and interactivity with those they need to influence on a regular basis.
Approach 2: The Supply-Control Principle
There are situations in which limiting the amount of time or supply of benefits can strengthen attraction. It’s no accident that many advertisements have a “limited time only” tag; people become anxious and eager about that which is in limited supply. This is called the law of scarcity, and when it is used by enlightened communicators, it can translate into abundance in terms of a positive outcome. Be careful, though: By artificially limiting the supply of something others want and thus increasing demand, you are planting yourself on the manipulative side of persuasion. Creating demand by letting others know that what you’re offering truly is in short supply keeps you in the ethical clear.
Approach 3: The Framing Principle
Words are powerful tools. They are so powerful that they become weapons of influence in the hands of professionals, and they become reputation busters in the hands of the uninitiated. The reason that words alone can influence people’s thoughts and behaviors in a significant way has to do with what I call the framing principle, which refers to the creation of context and mental structures that evoke specific mental images and meanings for the person reading or hearing the words. A simple example: If you tell someone to “disregard the gaps in my employment history” when applying for a job, rest assured that’s precisely what the person will think about. The frame you evoked—“gaps in employment history”—raises a flag with the interviewer because his frame for that term may summon up unfavorable concepts such as instability, restlessness, and lack of loyalty.
Approach 4: The Authority Principle
People trust authority. Research has shown that people listen more carefully and trust more quickly when the information comes from a source they perceive as authoritative. Many people can recall meetings from early in their careers during which their contributions barely registered with others, whereas even off hand remarks by senior executives were scrutinized for meaning and often accepted without question. Expertise from a credible source fosters trust. This implicit trust also transfers to authority that is merely perceived, often in just split seconds. Trust is the key to quick and effective influence.
Approach 5: The Evidence Principle
The evidence principle holds that information that is corroborated by outside parties—eyewitnesses, research, past experiences, and, best of all, the firsthand knowledge of the listener—is accepted immediately by the listener. This creates a framework of credibility and trust that a well-versed speaker can use to in influence a listener more effectively. To get full value from this pattern, when you provide evidence in a presentation, make sure it’s relevant and of specific value to key stakeholders in your audience. People are often—though not always—swayed by hard numbers and irrefutable data that support the points you’re making. You may not easily change an entire belief system this way, but offering influence more than just your opinion makes good sense when you’re looking to dislodge the barriers to acceptance of your ideas.
Approach 6: The Likability Principle
Trust is a major factor in influence. It is the key that unlocks the door to moving forward. Without it, listeners will be wary and open only to manipulation, which as we have seen is a short-term strategy that is bound to destroy trust and damage reputations in the long run.
Trust is gained through a combination of factors. Likability is one of them. People more easily trust those they like. Likability ties in directly with similarity. We trust those who are similar to us. To influence others with likability, you have to express genuine interest in them. You have to speak their language by using words they use and frames of reference they understand. Making people feel comfortable by subtly mirroring their nonverbal communication can also contribute to the feeling of similarity. Be genuinely likable and focus on communicating the similarities you have with others to gain their trust ethically.
Approach 7: The Reciprocity Principle
We learned this one as children: If you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours. For adults it becomes the landscape of political lobbying, the fuel that powers relationships, as well as a powerful social influencing method. The essence of the reciprocity principle is concerned not as much with the trading of favors and things as with the exchange of value. Whether someone offers to babysit your children so that you can run an important errand or you offer to give someone a ride home from the office, a sense of obligation is established for the beneficiary to return the favor. The when, what, and how of the repayment vary with the context and the relationship.
I’m not saying that you should do favors to get something in return, but by helping others when it is in your power and generally acting with generosity, you increase the potential for the types of relationships that make influence natural and easy.
Approach 8: The Experience Principle
This is the evidence principle taken to a personal level. Nothing says credibility quite like having been there, done that yourself. We experience life in multiple ways, all of them sensory. A knowledgeable communicator knows how to bring this sensory, experiential realm into interpersonal encounters and presentations in a manner that adds credibility and trust. The more you can help others have a visceral experience either directly—a confident handshake, meaningful eye contact, and a genuine smile are a good start—or indirectly through the stories you tell, the questions you ask, and the insights you create in their minds, the more you will reach them at an emotional level, where much of decision making has its root.
Approach 9: The Salience Principle
When we’re trying to get a message across and influence others, we naturally tend to focus on what supports our argument and play down what might be contrary to it. We all do this. Politicians, spouses, ministers, the media, and managers do it every day in the course of trying to influence others. The issue isn’t whether such slanting is right or wrong but rather what’s honest or overly biased, what’s responsible or manipulative, and, more aptly here, what works to build credibility and establish trust and what doesn’t.
We should amplify elements of information that conform to all the other principles presented here: those that build trust, those that create a win-win, and those that don’t take advantage of others for one’s own gain. As we highlight the points we consider important to our message, we ought to take care not to omit information that gives our listeners a different perspective that could also be of value to them. Although it can be counterintuitive to bring up information that’s perhaps contrary to the message we’re trying to get across, ethical persuaders present options—and work hard to show the validity and benefit of accepting their ideas.
When we exaggerate the truth—or turn up the volume on what we want the audience to believe—in a way that hides or alters the facts of any counterpoint, we’re closer to manipulation than to a higher and longer-lasting form of persuasion. Strive to present a full and fair argument, using evidence and experience and all the other methods to influence. You can highlight, you can focus, but you can’t exclude any portion of the truth without being manipulative.
Approach 10: The Passion Principle
Passion can’t be explained. It is felt. Whenever you are looking to influence someone to accept your ideas and share your vision, you have to have a feeling that energizes your insides, that makes you become expressive and use language that stimulates the heart as well as the mind. If it doesn’t come easily, think deeply about your relevant values and tie them to aspects of your idea so that you can feel it in your gut. Genuine emotion has the tendency to transfer to others. It is also what people expect from you when you’re hoping to get their vote. After all, if you’re not excited about what you’re offering, why should they be?
Using these principles can help deter interpersonal conflict and help manage relationships effectively to reduce negativity and build lasting rapport in your quest to create an executive presence that commands the respect of those around you.