by Robert L. Dilenschneider, author of “The Ultimate Guide to Power & Influence: Everything You Need to Know“
As 2023 draws to a close, everyone is releasing their word of the year. The Associated Press chose AI. Oxford chose rizz (short for charisma). Merriam-Webster chose authentic. My twist on the annual tradition: here’s a word that captures the zeitgeist of today’s business world — and not just for 2023, but for the foreseeable future.
The ability to influence is the number-one skill in business. It’s the piece that makes the rest possible.
You can devote huge amounts of time, energy, and resources to creating strategies and pursuing deals, but if you can’t influence others to execute on them, it’s all wasted. This has always been true, but in times of chaos and uncertainty, the stakes are too high to fail.
There are lots of misconceptions about influence. It’s not about being pushy or manipulative or convincing resisters to change their minds. And the rise of social media “influencers” (with their short-term focus on getting “likes” and orchestrating superficial trends) hasn’t helped.
The good news is, the less-than-influential can grow their skill set. A few tips for getting started:
Ask yourself: How can I help others?
Counterintuitive as it may sound, real influence comes from the ability to help the people around you and shape the world into a better place. This is what makes others want to follow you and what will ultimately drive your success.
The more helpful you can be to coworkers, clients, and your employer, the more they will like you and the more they will come to count on you. When you use your skills and talents to help others succeed, not only will you draw others to you, you’ll become a better person and experience a real sense of fulfillment.
Prioritize real-world relationships. They still mean something.
A story from my experience. A client was fixated on leveraging social media for a significant project. I told him, ‘You have seven key people you need to influence. Forget the hashtags; have real conversations with them.’ He did, and it worked.
The point? Take some time to identify the real decision-makers in your network, the people who actually move the needle, and connect with them genuinely.
Look at networking as an ongoing process, not a “one-and-done” activity.
You may think the purpose of your network is to grow your business, make sales, recruit, or be recruited. But the truth is that it’s about building relationships. You are not there, hat in hand, seeking a job. That may come eventually, but don’t be so desperate to make it happen. Life unfolds in its own time.
Keep your name in front of people you want to connect with.
Make a list of people you would like to know in your field, the media, politics, or other realms. Then narrow that list to a manageable number. Research their backgrounds, such as where they went to school, what boards they serve on, their charitable causes. Then, find ways to regularly connect with them.
I know a fellow who wanted to reach three key people. He put their names in his electronic Rolodex, and when something would come up in the news related to their interests, he would contact them with the information. It was an enormous help in making connections. Don’t overdo it, of course. You want to be helpful, not pesky.
Authenticity matters even more in the Algorithmic Age. Look for ways to provide the personal touch.
Amid the deluge of impersonal pixels and machine-generated content, a genuine human interaction is like a breath of fresh air.
Think about it: When was the last time you received a handwritten thank-you note? What about a holiday gift that wasn’t a generic fruit basket but rather an original autographed copy of your favorite book? These gestures can be time-consuming, but consider the lasting impression they leave.
Don’t underestimate the power of gratitude.
In our nonstop, sometimes frantic lives, we may easily forget the importance of gratitude, the value of that often brief but vital connection we make when we take a moment to smile and say “thank you.” People benefit from saying it as much as the one listening appreciates hearing it. Vast emotional distances may be overcome in a moment by a “thank you” that conveys “I value you and what you do.”
Protect your reputation, starting now.
The more power and influence you end up accumulating, the greater the efforts of others to take them away — or at least take them down a few notches. Assume your life is an open book. Social media has forever blurred the lines between “personal” and “professional,” so think before you post anything inflammatory, controversial, or politically sensitive. It could come back to bite you, many years from now.
Use the strong language of success.
For example, avoid clichés. Not only do they make your message unclear — after all, what does “Get the ball rolling” or “Think outside the box” really mean? — they make you seem lazy. Be original. Always use the active voice, never the passive. Make your sentences energetic, not flabby.
When speaking, as in writing, use active, muscular verbs. And please, avoid the temptation to ‘-ize’ a word. Don’t promise to ‘prioritize’; say that you will ‘set priorities.’ Use the strong language of success.
Seek to be a problem solver and conflict neutralizer.
Dr. Zoe Chance, an author, researcher, and professor at the Yale School of Management, claims the following question can “transform conversational dynamics”: What would it take for us to resolve this?
The key is to get people to focus on a problem that is clearly and succinctly stated (and usually you’ll have to be the one to do the clarifying and the stating). Then, you find out why the issue is so emotionally important to the people involved; finally, you offer a solution that satisfies all the parties needed to make the solution work.
Own your mistakes.
Mistakes are bound to happen, particularly if you are doing new and innovative things. Never try to hide from them or shift blame to others. Instead, own your mistakes. Take responsibility, learn from them, and find a constructive way to move forward. Don’t wallow in failure. Do continue to take risks.
Building influence isn’t something that happens overnight, and it isn’t easy. But it’s a skill set we all need these days.
When all paradigms are being disrupted, our ability to influence becomes incredibly important. It’s what allows us to find the opportunity hidden in the uncertainty. It’s what allows us to thrive in virtually any field and any job. It’s what gives us staying power.
Robert L. Dilenschneider, founder and CEO of The Dilenschneider Group, is one of the world’s foremost communication experts and leadership coaches. Dilenschneider has authored 18 seminal business and career development books. He has counseled major corporations and professional groups around the globe and is frequently called upon by the media to provide commentary and strategic public relations insights on major news stories.