Build Your Leaders

The Five "A's" of Influence

Years ago, the Carnegie Institute of Technology analyzed the records of ten thousand people and concluded that while fifteen percent of success is due to training, intelligence, and skill, eighty-five percent of success is based upon the ability to influence people. Despite what some may tell you, there is no secret to influencing others. Key to winning people over is our willingness and ability to help protect and build their ego.

Through my work with hundreds of successful businesspeople nationally, I have learned that all us -- regardless of how accomplished -- want approval and to feel important. Put another way, we are all "ego hungry." It's only when our ego is somewhat satiated that we can take our attention off ourselves and give it to someone else.

Your ego is like your stomach. When you have three solid meals a day, you'll think little about your stomach, but when you go without food for a significant period of time, your ego will call out to be fed. Nature tells us, "You and your needs come first."

Les Giblin in his little book How to Have Confidence and Power in Dealing with People offers this sage advice, "People act -- or fail to act -- largely to enhance their own egos. When you are trying to persuade another person to act in a certain way, and logic and reason seem to fail, try giving him a 'reason' that will enhance his ego."

I have identified five strategies to enhance the ego and ultimately influence people. All begin with the letter "a." They are:

  1. Attention
  2. Acceptance
  3. Appreciation
  4. Assumption
  5. Acquiescence

We'll examine each beginning with attention. We need others to help us feel important, and one way we can show others that they are important is to give them attention. There are hundreds of ways of showing attention. Two of my favorites are not keeping people waiting and being a good listener.

Do you remember the story about Queen Victoria, Benjamin Disraeli, and William Gladstone? Someone once asked the queen whether she preferred the company of Disraeli or Gladstone. She answered that when she broke bread with Gladstone she felt he was the most interesting man in England, but when she dined with Disraeli she felt she was England's most interesting person. Disraeli discovered what every person of influence knows: influence begins with attention.

To be accepted for all we are is a basic human want, if not a basic human need. To feel truly confident, we have to feel that people -- at least a few people -- truly love and approve of us for all we are, not just for our public persona. My friend Michael is one of those people for me. I can say most anything to him and know that he will not judge me. Our friendship is based on what we call "a safe container." We have consciously created a safe place where we can risk being totally honest with each other knowing that the other will be supportive.

It's not enough to simply approve of one another. To protect and build ego, and ultimately influence others, we must show appreciation. Study after study shows that workers respond more positively to recognition than to almost any other incentive including money and titles. In giving praise, Giblin recommends that we be sincere and specific.

Sincerity. We must mean it. All of us have highly sensitive "BS meters" that will sound as soon as someone tries to manipulate us.

Specificity. We should praise something specific. "You're a great guy" means little compared to "I have always admired how good you are with children." Praise the person for what he or she does, rather than what he or she is. For example, "Sarah, you are a good worker" lacks the impact of "Sarah, your report on the ABC project was excellent." Finally, people are more pleased with compliments that are not glaringly obvious. For example, my friend Tony, an excellent athlete, responds to compliments about his openness to try new sports more than compliments about his athletic prowess.

People with the power to influence know the importance of getting in the right frame of mind. A positive attitude is based upon three critical assumptions:

"I believe in myself." It's a fact: the world forms its opinion of us largely from the opinion we have of ourselves.

"I believe in you." We have to believe that the other person is going to, or does, like us. Why? When we believe others like us, we act differently. We are warmer, more open, and much more likely to win them over.

"I believe in what I am selling." Les Giblin reminds us, "You never sell anything to anyone until you yourself are sold on it."

The fifth and final "a" is acquiescence. In order to win people over to our side, we must be willing to acquiesce to a small degree. Do you remember the basic principle I stated at the beginning of article? It is so important that I will repeat it: "Key to winning people over is the willingness and ability to help them protect and build their ego." When an argument becomes an ego battle, nobody wins. We all know from experience that the biggest mistake we can make is to attack the ego of another person. But when we are willing to place our ego aside and not feel we have to win one hundred percent, our ability to influence increases.

Here are several other tips to increase your influence:

Listen carefully, recap, and pause before responding. Let the other person know that you think enough of what he or she has to say to listen closely and consider it.

If the other person has a good point, acknowledge it. If you give in to the smaller points, the other person will be more likely to give in on the larger ones.

Use third-party testimonials. When a politician says, "I am the most honest candidate running," we roll our eyes, but when the League of Women Voters makes the same statement about the candidate, we pay attention.

Allow the other person to save face. Perhaps the person didn't have all the facts in the first place. "I can well understand that you would have felt that way. You didn't know XYZ at the time." Or, we can suggest that someone else may be at fault. "Maybe one of your staff people booked the hotel and forgot to tell you."

Like tenacious watchdogs, our egos stand guard over the decision-making process. When the ego is threatened it will bite. To win people to our side we must help them protect and build their ego. We must feed their "ego hunger." And little satisfies that hunger as much as these five "a's": attention, acceptance, appreciation, assumption, and acquiescence.

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1,154 Words

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Copyright 2005, All rights reserved

The Career Engineer" Randy Siegel works with organizations to take high-potential employees and give them the leadership and communications skills they need to be successful as they rise through the organization. Purchase his book PowerHouse Presenting: Become the Communicator You Were Born to Be through, and subscribe to his complimentary monthly e-Newsletter at