How To Influence Others

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We all like to think we have rational minds, right? In fact, we’re ruled by our emotions and desires, even when we think we’re making logical, informed decisions. “An attempt to change someone’s mind will be successful if it aligns with the core elements that govern how we think,” says neuroscientist Tali Sharot, author of The Influential Mind. “Our desires are what shape our beliefs. It is those motivations and feelings we need to tap into to make a change.” So whether you’re trying to raise money, convince your children to do something (anything!), get ahead at work or simply make someone understand you better, follow Sharot’s suggestions to succeed sooner.

1. Find common ground

Our instinct is to try to alter people’s beliefs and actions with evidence that proves them wrong. But in the face of facts that clash with their prior beliefs, people come up with counter-arguments or simply turn away. Instead, find arguments that rely on common ground. If your spouse is set on moving to a different country but you’re not keen, don’t produce statistics showing crime is high or wages are low there. Instead, agree that it’s a great country to live in, but point out that staying where you are means you’re close to friends and family.

2. Share the emotions

Evidence shows that emotions are effectively infectious – a powerful speech or dramatic movie can make people “tick together” and start experiencing the same feelings at the same time. Be mindful that you are inducing emotions in others simply by experiencing them yourself. If someone’s stressed and reacting badly to a setback, shouting at them to calm down doesn’t help. It’s staying calm yourself that will encourage them to be calm.

3. Create an incentive

Often our instinct is to try to alter people’s actions by warning of future dangers. “If you don’t work hard, you’ll fail!” However, fear can demotivate people and lead them to freeze up rather than act. Using positive strategies to change behaviour, such as offering instant rewards, is more likely to trigger the brain’s “go” response. In a study, warning medical staff that they must wash their hands to prevent to spread of disease did not affect their behaviour; giving them a score that increased every time they followed sanitary procedure did.

4. Give them agency

People value things more if they think they have chosen them or made them (sometimes called the “IKEA Effect” – that bookcase you put together is better than a factory-made one, right?). That’s why giving orders often fails, because people feel their independence has been limited. Expanding their sense of agency makes them happier and more compliant. For example, ask your preschooler whether they would like to get dressed or like you to dress them. They were going to end up dressed anyway, but giving them the choice means they’ll be less resistant.

The Influential Mind by Tali Sharot, RRP £18.99 (Little, Brown), is out now. Buy on Amazon

Chris Miller
Subeditor and contributor

As Coach’s subeditor, Chris is responsible for the accuracy and consistency of all the articles on the site, and occasionally contributes stories. Chris was managing editor on Men’s Fitness UKCoach’s former sister title – for 12 years, and is now a freelance writer and editor working on The Guardian, the i, Virgin Media’s TV Edit and more, alongside Coach.