Seven Avenues for Maximizing Personal Influence

Seven Avenues for Maximizing
Personal Influence

Mike Armour

I have a friend in the professional speaking world whose signature presentation is entitled "Every Day's a SalesDay."

The thrust of his presentation is that we are all in sales, whether we know it or not. Every day we are selling ourselves to someone.

In selling ourselves to others, our purpose is to gain their cooperation, collaboration, business, or support. Without influence, we can accomplish none of these objectives.

And if this is true of people in general, it's particularly true of small business owners. To achieve their dreams and to do so with their limited resources, small business owners must daily capitalize on their ability to influence people.

As an encore entrepreneur, your self-improvement agenda should therefore make it a priority to enhance your capacity for exerting influence.

Joining the Flow

Personal influence is the way that you maximize your ability to gain cooperation, collaboration, business, and support.

The word "influence" has a picturesque root meaning. It literally means "to flow into.". When we influence people, our thoughts, ideas, and recommendations "flow into" them to such an extent that they adopt these things as their own.

Influence is thus a way to have impact on other people and to shape the world around us. It's not the only way, by any means. People who take violent action have an impact. So do people whose plight evokes our sympathy.

And then there's the impact that comes with positional authority, that is, the clout that people have merely by virtue of holding a certain position. Managers, owners, shareholders, government officials, judges, and parents clearly have positional authority. Others with positional authority include customers in the business world and voters in the political world.

Now, positional authority differs from influence in a significant way. At its core, positional authority has coercive power. It has the ability to compel the unwilling to comply with its wishes. Influence, on the other hand, relies on persuasive power. It does not have coercive power.

As encore entrepreneurs, starting a business, we have little or no positional authority to exercise. If we have employees, we do have the positional authority of owning the business. Beyond that, we have to get things done by wielding influence.

Mastering the art of influence is thus pivotal to startup success. Here, then, are seven avenues through which we generate influence. The more of them we utilize effectively, the more powerful our influence is likely to be.

1. Gaining Trust

Any discussion of influence must begin with trust. It's the most powerful influencing agent at our disposal. Or to put it another way, we have little chance of influencing people who distrust us. Influence, we have said, is the process by which our thoughts, ideas, and recommendations flow into the lives of others. Distrust stands as a barrier which blocks this flow.

There is no sure-fire way to gain trust. But there is a sure-fire way to be distrusted. All that's required is for us to act in ways that make us appear untrustworthy. Being consistently trustworthy in our words and actions is thus imperative for anyone who wants to expand his or her influence.

2. Reputation

The word "reputation" literally means "what you are reputed to be." Reputation is the way that people picture us. Some people know us well enough and have had enough experience with us to grant us their trust. Others, who do not know us so well, will judge us on the basis of our reputation — what they've heard others say about us.

This is why we must guard our reputation and keep it in good repair. In situations where trust does not yet exist, people will fall back on using our reputation to gauge their willingness to be influenced by us.

3. Being Perceived as an Authority

We speak of people who have authority and people who are an authority. Influence depends not so much on having authority but being an authority in the minds of others.

When people see you as authoritative on a given topic or set of solutions, they are more willing to yield to your influence in these arenas. One objective you should have as an encore entrepreneur is positioning yourself as an authority, someone with authoritative answers to a certain set of problems.

This is why so many small business owners write regular blogs or send out newsletters. They are using these means to establish themselves as authorities in the mind of potential customers.

4. Engaging Presence

It has long been known that tall people tend to build influence more quickly than short people (although there is a point at which great height becomes intimidating to others and thus lessens influence). This is just one of many ways in which personal appearance and mannerisms shape our influence-building capacity.

Here are other ways that you create influence through an engaging presence. Making and maintaining warm eye-contact. Speaking with enthusiasm and using energetic gestures. Listening well and asking questions that bespeak a genuine interest in the views and insights of other people. And giving people your undivided attention.

5. Clarity of Communication

Since influence is a persuasive process, communication is at the heart of it. Clarity of communication does not assure that we will be influential. On the other hand, failing to be clear in our communication will always impede our influence.

One well-known talk-show host frequently tells his audience that he prefers clarity to agreement. Until we understand our positions well enough to state them clearly, we are limited in our ability to argue these positions persuasively.

For us to influence others, for us to persuade them, they must be able to grasp what we are saying easily and to understand it accurately and thoroughly. Working on crisp, clear, concise communication is one of the most important skills to develop in our quest to be more influential.

6. Likeability

Do you tend to listen — really listen — to people whom you do not like? Few of us do. So people who do not like you are unlikely to genuinely listen to you. And if they will not listen to you, you have little prospect of influencing them.

So if we are to maximize our influence, we must increase our likeability quotient. This means that we have to root out such things as appearing rude or gruff, demonstrating a lack of courtesy, failing to be thoughtful and appreciative, making crude comments, acting in an overbearing or boorish manner, being unforgiving, making disparaging or discouraging remarks, and allowing negativity to pervade our attitudes and comments.

Then we must replace these unlikeable characteristics with their opposite pattern of behavior. Pay attention to the personality traits that lead you to like people, then replicate these traits in your own life.

7. Success

We all want to be winners. So when people truly succeed at something, we want to know how they did it. What was their secret? Their achievements make us receptive to their influence.

Moreover, success has a halo effect. Someone who is highly successful in one arena of life is often perceived as having something of value to say in other arenas. This halo effect thus broadens our influence beyond the sphere in which we have succeeded.

This means that you should never be embarrassed to highlight your successes. Not to the point that you sacrifice humility, to be sure. But in our society, success builds credibility and credibility builds influence.

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