Influence comes from how others experience you. Their perceptions of your trustworthiness, credibility, confidence, knowledge, authenticity and passion stem from how they see you in day-to-day interactions, not just high-stakes situations. If people consistently have a positive experience with you, they are likely to take your recommendations and act on what you have to say.
Conversely, consider what happens when people don’t perceive you in a positive light. If prospective customers believe you lack confidence in your product or service, they likely won’t buy from you. If listeners doubt your trustworthiness because you fail to make eye contact when speaking, they likely won’t take your advice. If your team questions whether you authentically care about their work-related challenges, they probably won’t follow you.
The popular saying “perception is reality” is true. Your ability to influence others to act comes from their perception of you, not from your best intentions. Trust, credibility and authenticity have the power to move people to act. For instance, I had a friend whose dentist recommended she have some non-urgent dental work. Regardless of his recommendation, she didn’t move forward. A few months later, she visited another dentist who recommended the same procedure; only this time, she booked the appointment and had the work completed. When I asked her why she acted on the recommendation of one dentist and not the other, she said the first dentist seemed untrustworthy, as if money motivated his suggestion. The second dentist, on the other hand, seemed authentic. He earned her trust and made her believe her well-being was his priority.
I don’t doubt both dentists were fully capable of doing the work. Both believed she needed the work and likely had good intentions. Despite that, only one could influence my friend to act on his recommendation. He created an authentic experience for her that ultimately won him the business.
You can never completely control what others think about you, but you do have more control over it than you think. How others experience you in daily interactions is based on how you communicate. Not just your words, but the whole package — your presence, your words, your messaging and nonverbal cues. The perceptions people create of you aren’t limited to just face-to-face interactions but by how you speak on the phone, text message, email and more. Eye connection creates trust; error-free communication creates credibility; body language communicates passion, confidence and connection; and word choice and tone demonstrate care.
Most business dealings are more complicated than just a conversation. Negotiating a contract, closing a sale, supporting customers and managing employees require an array of finely tuned communication skills that determine your level of influence. Unfortunately, most business professionals underestimate the power of their daily dealings by failing to do the work required to improve.
Consider a time when you watched someone deliver a painful presentation. Perhaps the speaker fidgeted or stumbled over their words. Maybe they used too many hand gestures or were as stiff as a board. Perhaps they began each thought with “um,” “uh” or “so.” Chances are the presenter was not aware of their poor communication skills. All the while you sat there, cringing as their credibility walked a tight rope. As observers, it’s easy to pick apart the communication flaws of others, but we rarely acknowledge our own weaknesses. It’s natural for us to believe we are better than how others perceive us.
These five methods are needed to improve the skills that lead us to increased influence:
- Self-awareness. How we perceive ourselves doesn’t always match the way others do. We don’t know what we don’t know, and rarely will others tell us. If we don’t ask for honest, detailed feedback from someone we trust, we remain in the dark. To know what our listeners see and hear, we need to become self-aware. Only then can we begin to make improvements.
- Consistency. Our message and our delivery must be in sync. We can’t give a high-powered motivational speech while standing onstage stiff and rigid. We also can’t expect others to trust our message if how we communicate one day is drastically different from how they see us on the others. First, our message and delivery must be in sync. Second, we must be consistent throughout every interaction, Monday to Sunday.
- Reputation. Our reputation precedes us. It enters the room before we do, affecting our ability to influence others, either positively or negatively. It represents how we define ourselves and what others can expect from us.
- Adaptability. Influence comes from the ability to adapt our message, our reactions and our communication style on the fly to meet our listeners’s expectations and needs.
- Impact. When we can connect with listeners emotionally, we create momentum for our message. That momentum impacts others, even when we aren’t physically present.
Each method builds on the one before it. Miss one method and your ability to influence others diminishes. When we embrace each method, we go beyond being good communicators and rise to the level of powerful influencers. Only then can we inspire people to act on what we have to say.