If you want to improve your influencing skills, focusing on how other people act will only get you so far. The real change begins when you start focusing on your own behavior. (Pixabay/sutulo)

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There is an enormous misconception in just about every article or book on influence that exists today.

Browse through a couple, and you'll quickly notice that they overwhelmingly focus on teaching you the inner workings of the human mind.

The promise is clear—learn what makes people tick and you can convince them to do your bidding.

Feel a little queasy? Yeah, me too.

But the fact that it seems manipulative isn't the only thing wrong with this typical approach to gaining influence—it's also focused on the wrong person.

If you want to improve your influencing skills, focusing on how other people act will only get you so far. The real change begins when you start focusing on your own behavior.

Specifically, there are four foundational influencing skills that are 100 percent in your control. Focus on these, and your influence will grow much faster than it ever would from focusing on cheap psychological tricks and tactics.

In my experience working with multimillion-dollar companies, these four influencing skills are the true difference makers.

Influencing Skill No. 1: Being Someone Others Want to Be Around

I know what you're thinking: Yeah, yeah. I know that already.

That's the usual response I get when expressing the importance of being someone others want to be around.

But here's the danger—you can be completely aware of this trait's importance, yet still fail at it miserably.

If you really want to know whether people actually enjoy being around you, there's only one way to find out: ask them.

You don't have to make this complicated. It can be as simple as saying, "What does it feel like to be around me? Do I ever do anything that makes you feel uneasy or negative?"

Ask people you trust and—don't simply give them permission—beg them to be honest. You'll often be shocked at the answers you get. I know I was.

When I first started making the effort to ask this question several years ago, an overwhelming number of people all said the same thing:

"Sometimes, you have a look on your face that makes me wonder why you're so mad."

And by "sometimes" they meant almost all the time.

This wasn't easy to hear, but it was tremendously helpful.

The truth is, I wasn't mad—I just had that look on my face.

When someone finally called it to my attention, I decided to make myself smile around others. The effect this little change produced was instantly noticeable.

People began to open up around me.

They listened to me with interest.

In short, people simply enjoyed being around me a lot more than they had previously.

This is the true foundation of influence. It doesn't matter if you know all the psychological methods in the world, if you aren't someone people want to be around, you will not be able to lead them anywhere.

So, how do you become someone others want to be around? Smiling is a good start, but there are three specific qualities you should start working on if you want to see a drastic improvement in your influencing skills:

Positivity

You and I know people who are always down in the dumps. No matter the situation, they're unable to see the glass as half-full.

How much do you enjoy being around them?

Chances are, you avoid them at all costs.

The exact opposite is true about positive people.

When you talk to someone with a positive mindset, you wish the conversation would never end—you think of new subjects to bring up just so you can keep talking.

They are people others love being around.

Because of this, they naturally get more opportunities, have more connections and have greater influence.

But there's a right and wrong way to be positive.

The real power of positivity lies in the balance between being realistic—knowing what is—and in understanding that possibilities for greater results exist. You are simply in the process of identifying those possibilities.

Respect

When the Atlanta Falcons made it to Super Bowl 51, team owner Arthur Blank did something unexpected.

He bought a ticket for every single employee in the organization—from his right-hand man to the janitors—and paid for their accommodations.

Can you imagine how those janitors felt after hearing the news?

Think about the bosses you've had throughout the course of your life. If they had done something like Mr. Blank, how would that have changed your perception of them?

Showing respect like this to everyone, despite who they are, where they've been and what they do for a living will make a lasting impact on everyone you meet.

People will look at you as a friend—someone who understands them and isn't too good to talk to them.

Respect is an overlooked superpower that leads to greater influence.

Engaging

The ability to engage others in conversation is key to being someone others want to be around.

Masters of the art of conversation are able to communicate clearly and seamlessly with anyone—while treating them like they're the only person in the room.

If you've ever met someone like this, you know how good they make you feel.

They're incredibly interested in you, your family, your story and can carry a riveting conversation for hours.

You can learn to do the same thing, even if you don't consider yourself an extrovert, and drastically increase your influence.

Practicing these three things will take your conversational skills to new heights:

1. Actively Listen

Being a good conversationalist starts with not saying a word.

When you focus all your energy on the person talking and treat them like they're the only person in the room, you'll not only hear what they're saying...you'll also:

  • Hear everything they're not saying (which is sometimes even more important)
  • Make them feel heard—the underrated side effect of actively listening. You can give someone else the gift of acknowledgement, simply by giving them your full attention.

2. Ask Questions

This is a great way to learn about other people and find new areas to talk about.

Instead of looking for opportunities to make an interesting point or talk about yourself, cultivate a sense of extreme interest and curiosity in every conversation you have. It doesn't matter who you're with, for the next handful of minutes that person should be the most interesting thing in the world to you.

If you need to get the ball rolling, ask about the person's family. Make it your mission to find out what ignites their passion and makes them come alive. Dig deep—you'll be amazed at what you discover.

3. Look for a Way to Give Them a 'Standing Ovation'

Years ago, my manager, Robert D. Smith, pointed out a sad truth that I've never forgotten:

Most people will go their entire life without ever receiving a standing ovation—literally or figuratively.

Everyone wants to be recognized. Everyone wants to know they're doing something right. Everyone wants to hear, "Well done."

We're so quick to catch people in the act of doing something wrong, yet we rarely take the time to acknowledge someone in the act of doing something right.

When you're in a conversation with someone, look for something—even if it seems little—and go out of your way to recognize that person for it.

Influencing Skill No. 2: Understanding the Components of Change

The amount of influence you have is directly proportional to your ability to lead people to make positive changes.

Unfortunately, almost everything we're conditioned to believe about change is fundamentally wrong. Specifically, there are three widely accepted beliefs about change that are absolute myths.

Myth 1: "It takes time to change."

Myth 2: "You have to want to change."

Myth 3: "Change can only happen when you hit rock bottom."

Each one of these is wrong.

True and lasting change can happen anytime, in an instant, whether you want it to or not, as long as two things happen:

1. The person understands what's in it for them.

If someone is going to change, there has to be a very compelling answer when they ask themselves, "What's in it for me?"

This doesn't make them greedy or selfish—it makes them human. It's our nature to act only when we're absolutely sure that doing so is in our best interest.

When presented with something that will require them to change, people instantly think:

  • What about my family?
  • What about my career?
  • What about me?

And we often think these things without even realizing we're thinking them. It's an automatic, subconscious response.

When trying to influence change, it's critical that you make communicating "what's in it for me" your top priority.

Your next priority? Showing proof.

2. The person has proof beyond a reasonable doubt that they should change

I'm not talking about mathematical proof—I'm talking about the kind of proof present when someone is presented with something that makes perfect sense. They hear it and things just click.

Maybe they've heard it before, even several times, but this time it was explained in a different wayand from that moment on, they never thought the same way again.

When proof beyond a reasonable doubt collides with "what's in it for me," people change immediately—and it lasts.

How understanding change will expand your influence

When you understand change, you can initiate it in your own life and inspire it in the lives of others.

You'll have a better chance to add new clients or advance in your career.

You'll be able to influence your children in a way that helps them continue making great decisions long after they've left your household.

You'll be able to help a friend who has gone down a destructive path get back on the right one.

Understanding this truth will help you help others.

©2009-2017 Andy Andrews. Used by Permission. Originally posted on AndyAndrews.com.

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