Every generation grapples with the question of how to win friends and influence people. Dale Carnegie had given a whole generation tips on How To Win Friends and Influence People. Whether it was about remembering people’s names or avoiding arguments that ruin the relationship, he had a suggestion to offer. He showed us how to make your way to the hearts of people. We need people to love us to be influential.
Influence also has a strength component to it. Roosevelt used to say, “Speak softly and carry a big stick; you will go far.” Show of strength is all about demonstrating the ability to carry out a threat. This can be done subtly or blatantly so as to leave no doubt. Some others use cunning and duplicity in the way Niccolò Machiavelli wrote in The Prince that “The Prince should injure people only if he knows there is no threat of revenge.” While very few people have actually read The Prince but so great is his influence that we still refer to duplicity and scheming behavior as Machiavellianism.
In the sitcom The Office, Michael Scott as the boss asks this basic question: “Would I rather be feared or loved? Easy, both! I want people to be afraid of how much they love me.”
John Neffinger and Matthew Kohut’s book Compelling People tells us that the truly influential people have strength and warmth. If you show neither strength nor warmth, you will evoke contempt and will be ignored. If you only show warmth but no strength, people will pity you. Show brute force without warmth and the person generates fear or envy. We admire those who show both. But this is hard.
The book tells us how gender, ethnicity, age, body type and looks affect how we come across. These affect decisions that people make about us. A woman who shows her competence during a job interview but fails to show warmth will get rejected because of the gender stereotyping. In some extremely male dominated professions, the competence threshold is pushed even higher for women. The authors say
In hiring decisions, decision makers sometimes shift the hiring criteria to emphasize social skills and penalize highly competent female candidates, who are viewed as cold. When women negotiate for a higher salary, they become less likable, though the opposite is true for men.”
Men who work for female bosses are seen as less masculine and end up getting paid less than men who have a male boss. The gender stereotype works both ways. Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In also cites many of these research findings. <Read my review of Lean In>
While you may not be able to control people’s biases and stereotypes about gender, religion etc, you can use a host of other things to build your influence. The authors have studied Fortune 500 executives, TED speakers and Nobel Prize winners to identify factors that make someone influential. When actors want to portray someone who is strong and powerful, they pull themselves up to their full height, take up as much space as possible and make eye contact that conveys as much as your handshake that you mean business. Social science research tells us that good, upright posture projects strength. That’s what the military teaches you first – stand tall and proud. Harvard Professor Amy Cuddy says that simply “adopting a confident pose — or simply visualizing one, as in that last case — delivers almost instant self-assurance.”
A smile could convey warmth. But a weak smile may dilute influence. People pick up a smile even across a telephone conversation because it conveys warmth. A person’s eye contact, voice, tone, hairstyle, and the clothes are all signals that our mind continuously processes. The book tells us what to do in each of these areas to convey warmth and strength.
The authors confess that most of their findings apply to the American context. Not making eye contact in the American culture is a sign of guilt. In some other cultures it is a sign of respect. The book does not cover enough of the cultural nuances. Given that there are corporations emerging from Asia and very soon from Africa, it would nice to learn about how to translate these cues of influence across cultures.
“Strength gives us a sense of mastery and warmth gives us a sense a sense of belonging.” When used together, it creates a compelling proposition.
This book certainly was one.