How to Be More Influential

colorful chameleon on a branch
By Jonah Berger, Ph.D.

3 minutes

The first of four steps is to be a chameleon and subtly imitate others.

Whether trying to convince a colleague on the board, change the CEO’s mind or just get your neighbors to finally trim their hedges, we’d all like to be a little more influential. Here are four tips to increase your impact, based on my book Invisible Influence.

1. Be a chameleon.

Subtly imitating the language, behavior or facial expressions of others eases interactions. Mimicry increases liking, trust and affiliation. It has made negotiators more successful and increased waiters’ tips by 70 percent. So don’t just listen; emulate. If an interviewer leans back on their chair and crosses their legs, do the same. If a client starts emails with “Hey” instead of “Dear,” adopt that language. Subtle shifts can deepen social bonds and turn strangers into allies.

2. Make consensus visible.

In many group decision-making contexts, people are looking to others to figure out what to do. To sway the group your way, build consensus for your side and make that support easily observable. Nobody likes waiting in line, yet people often flock to restaurants or attractions that have lines out the door. Why? Because they assume if others are doing something it must be good.

Build your own virtual line of backers. Find people who already agree with you, and use their support to convince those on the fence. Start with the easiest to persuade and go from there. Let the next person know that the first person already supports it. The more people know others support you, the easier it will be to convince them.

3. Be different … just not too different.

Pitching a new product or idea is tough. If the new thing seems too different from existing practice (e.g., the Segway), people may worry that it will require a big shift in behavior or be difficult to implement. If the idea seems too similar to existing practice, though, people will wonder why they need to buy or do something new. In between is just right. Similar enough to be familiar, but different enough to seem new. So pitch like Goldilocks and make things seem optimally distinct. If the product or idea is extremely novel, cloak it in a skin that makes it seem more familiar (like the “Horsey Horseless” example—a car with a wooden horse’s head on the front, so the real horses on the road wouldn’t be afraid of it). If the thing is too similar, give it a new shell that highlights its points of difference.

4. Be seen.

Ever hear a new song on the radio and hate it, only to find yourself tapping your feet to that same tune just a couple weeks later? Familiarity leads to liking. The more we hear or see something, the more we like it. Use that same principle to increase your influence. Want someone to like you? Walk by their office every so often, or try to run into them at the water cooler. Just like that song on the radio, they’ll start to like you more without even realizing why.

Author and consultant Jonah Berger, Ph.D., is a professor at the University of Pennsylvania.

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