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The Subtle Art of Influence
Mental Models, Performance, Business & Entrepreneurship | newsletter.scottdclary.com
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The Subtle Art of Influence
I still remember that feeling like it was yesterday.
I walked into the conference room.
It was the first time I ever had to present in a professional setting.
I was scared sh*tless.
I started speaking.
And….. no one even looked my way. It was like I didn't even exist. Just invisible.
The loud extroverts in the room quickly chimed in - dominated the discussion as usual. My little thoughts disappeared into the void, dismissed without consideration.
I sat down feeling crushed and deflated.
Like I’d never be able to truly influence and present and make ideas really stick no matter how hard I tried.
Some people had it so easy. Why did some people have the ability to walk in to the room and just command respect.
Well lucky for you. Over the course my career I’ve gotten significantly better at influencing, teaching, presenting and communicating and I took a moment this week to codify some of my beliefs and learnings on the art of influence.
Looking back, that early sense of hopelessness and inability to influence was simply a limiting belief born out of inexperience and lack of confidence.
My' ‘inability to ever influence anyone’ was just a story I told myself.
A limiting belief born of inexperience.
The truth I've come to realize is that with some effort, anyone can learn to establish presence and take charge in any situation.
I've learned to shape opinions and perspectives through finesse, subtlety and nuance - not force or aggression.
Nonverbals. Reading the room. Sending the right signals.
Mastering these unspoken rules allowed my influence to grow exponentially. I went from passive participant to active leader.
So here is what I learnt. How to sway conversations. Make your voice matter. Even become the most valuable person at the table.
Let me break down the techniques I’ve learnt.
Adopt an Empowered Mindset
Ok - bear with me. I know that you were expecting hard tactics, but for the most common fear in the world (public speaking), mindset isn’t just a nice to have, it’s a need to have.
Remember, the foundation of influence isn't manipulative tactics or smooth talking.
It starts with genuine self-confidence and care for others.
"Whether you think you can or you think you can't, you're right." - Henry Ford
Your beliefs become self-fulfilling prophecies.
Choose to believe in your inherent worth and ability to contribute value.
The most impactful influencers uplift others too. Their confidence stems from service, not self-interest.
Each day ask yourself: "How can I empower the people around me?" Forget about trying to protect your own ego.
This flows over into your communication style, which inadvertently, influences.
Also resize your self-limiting beliefs. Don't accept narratives like:
I'm too young/inexperienced/quiet to make an impact
No one cares what I have to say
I should just keep my head down
It’s normal to experience these without experience, however the goal is to get you thinking like this from day 1.
These stories vanish the moment you refuse to buy into them anymore.
I start each day by setting very specific personal intentions to:
Add value to every interaction
Share my perspective
Confidence is a practice. Mindfulness cements your beliefs. Meditate on your capabilities.
Master Your Physical Presence
Body language is more powerful than words.
Here’s some very basic techniques I’ve found commend respect and presence.
Straighten your back, Square your shoulders – Expansive postures increase confidence hormones.You'll feel more empowered.
Sit at the head of the table – Arrive early to claim this power position. It signals confidence and capability (also arriving early is just a good practice).
Stand tall – Take center stage. Shrinking away will fade you into the background.
Make steady eye contact – It builds connections and trust. Darting eyes convey anxiety.
Own your space – Don't retreat when all eyes turn your way. Embrace the spotlight. Lean into it.
Wield these nonverbals to shape experiences without dominating discussions.
Presence is power.
Use it judiciously by staying centered in service to others. Don't get drunk on positional authority - you’ll just come across as an asshole.
Want to cultivate serious influence? Learn to listen first.
"Most people listen just to reply, not understand." - Stephen Covey
Don't be most people. Listen intently:
Maintain eye contact
Ask thoughtful follow up questions
Paraphrase key points
Affirm remarks appropriately
Understand motivation and context
Make others feel heard and they'll start asking for your opinions.
Listening demonstrates respect. It diffuses tensions and surfaces unseen perspectives. Be quick to hear, slow to speak.
As Stephen Hawking noted:
"Quiet people have the loudest minds."
When you make people feel truly heard, amazing things happen. Tensions diffuse, new insights emerge, trust builds. The conversation flows instead of stalling.
Listening shows respect. It says to the other person "You matter. Your thoughts matter." And when people feel respected, they start to care what you think too.
So speak less, listen more. Be quick to hear, slow to speak, as the saying goes. Quiet people with loud minds will feel safe to speak up.
Guide the Agenda
The agenda is the roadmap. Whoever defines it directs the destination.
I know this isn’t always practical, but if you can - offer to set the agenda, or at least understand the agenda (if you’re not setting it), so you can prepare properly.
"He who controls the agenda controls the outcome." - Jim Rohn
For every meeting, come equipped with:
Clear desired outcomes
Strong opening and close
Then tactfully guide discussion through each step. Gently but firmly redirect tangents.
You'll be seen as the leader, even without formal title. The group will reach better outcomes.
Side note: I’m a firm believer that if a meeting doesn’t have an agenda - we aren’t having a meeting. Setting an agenda ahead of time is a must have when we’re sitting down.
Planning is power. Don't just react to the agenda - envision and create the dialogue you want to see.
Share Your Perspective
Don't wait to be called on. Provide your view early and often.
"The most powerful person is often the one willing to upset the status quo." - Stone, Patton and Heen
Share your perspective early and make your voice heard. As the saying goes, the most powerful person is often willing to constructively disrupt the status quo.
Some good entry points:
"Building on what [X] said earlier..."
"I have a slightly different take on this..."
"That's a compelling viewpoint. Another angle is..."
The more you add your wisdom early with care and empathy, the more your influence builds.
Speak your truth but make people think, not go on the defensive.
Keep sharing your perspective.
Don't hold back until too late in the conversation.
Help guide the direction. Just take care to do so in a thoughtful, constructive way.
Adapt to Your Audience
Insightful communicators tailor their style to individuals and environments.
"To effectively communicate, we must realize that we are all different in the way we perceive the world." - Patrick King
Use that understanding to adapt your communication. Be cognizant of others' perspectives, not just your own.
Here are some techniques:
Mirroring - Match body language, vocal pacing and tonality to build intuitive rapport with others.
4 Temperament Model - The DISC framework categorizes tendencies as:
Dominant - Direct, Results-focused
Influencing - Outgoing, Enthusiastic
Steady - Patient, Supportive
Conscientious - Analytical, Reserved
Identify tendencies and tailor your communication accordingly.
Be direct with D's, enthusiastic with I's, patient with S's and reserved with C's.
It's a subtle way to gain influence through deeper connections.
Meet people where they are.
Lead with Questions
Skilled questioning builds connections and unearths insights.
"A leader has to have the confidence to give others the space to shine. That comes from asking, not telling." - Alison Levine
Types of Questions:
Open-Ended - Draws out deeper thinking by allowing expansive answers.
"What are your thoughts on our strategy for the upcoming year?"
Reflective - Surfaces underlying context, motivations and assumptions.
"What makes you feel that way about the proposal?"
Connecting - Builds relationships and rapport.
"Tell me more about your background and how you got involved in this industry."
Focusing - Re-orients attention and brings clarity.
"Of all the points discussed so far, which do you think is most critical for us to address?"
Guiding - Moves conversations forward constructively.
"What do you think the next steps should be to bring this vision into reality?"
Mirroring - Checks perceptions and improves understanding.
"So what I'm hearing is that you feel unprepared for the changes ahead. Is that correct?"
5 Whys - Keep asking "why" five times to find the real reason behind a problem. This is an incredibly useful interview framework.
ORID - First, look at what's happening (Observations). Then, think about how you feel about it (Reactions). Next, figure out what it means (Interpretations). Lastly, decide what to do (Decisions).
Ask more. Tell less. Come armed to every meeting with thoughtful questions
Make people feel heard and they'll eagerly listen to you.
Speak to Groups
Public speaking builds your leadership presence. But many avoid it due to fear.
The key is realizing no one cares if you make a mistake. They're too worried about themselves!
Connect with individuals - Don't speak to the group. Engage individual faces in the audience.
Start strongly - Open with a bold statement or question to grab attention.
Tell stories - Anecdotes emotionally connect with audiences.
Use humor - Laughter immediately wins people over.
Great presenters combine confidence with vulnerability. Don't pretend to have all the answers - share your authentic self.
I used to dread speaking in meetings. Now I volunteer to present and speak whenever possible.
I’m not discounting the fact that public speaking is the most common fear globally. But trust me when I say, after doing it 3-4 times, it gets monumentally easier.
One last mindset hack.
You don’t need external validation to internalize confidence.
Repeat that 10 times. Let it sink in.
Your worth isn’t defined by:
Those are merely reflections of confidence. Not the source.
The source lies within. Access it by:
Revisiting your core values
Connecting to your purpose
Recalling your key strengths
Holding your head high
When you know your worth, it doesn’t need external validation. You’ll act with assurance regardless of position or approval.
Synthesize Your Skills
True influence requires more than specific tactics. It means blending confidence with compassion. Words with body language. Listening while leading.
This is your potential - to elevate others beyond their individual capabilities through generous guidance, not force.
Will you hone your instincts? Become a voice that demands to be heard? An amplifier who inspires truth and progress?
I hope the answer is yes. The future is yours. Go shape it.
These are probably the most important lessons I’ve learnt that combined really impact how you show up in a room and impact whoever is receiving your message.
I hope you walk away with a few useful tips.
But here’s the key: don’t try to implement everything overnight.
Pick 1-2 skills that really resonate. Start practicing them. Build momentum.
Before you know it, you'll have internalized these techniques into your natural style.
Soon you'll walk into any room feeling self-assured and ready to add value.
No more invisibility.
You'll be seen. You'll be heard. You'll inspire and influence without effort.
Your voice will become impossible to ignore.
If you enjoyed this article, I’d love to hear from you.
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