You can measure your influence by observing how effective you are in getting others to do what you want done. How able are you to motivate people to hire you, invest in you, join your team, be your friend, be your partner or do you a favor? When you think of influence in this way, you may think of manipulation – but true influence is not manipulation. Manipulating people means getting them to do things that are not in their best interests. That’s being a conman. You can do it for a while, but sooner or later people will see through you and your reputation will be ruined.
True influence is the ability to build long- term, mutually beneficial personal or business relationships. That means the relationship has to positively impact not just you but the other person as well.
Most people are focused on what they themselves want, not realizing that the best way to get what they want is by serving others. Zig Ziglar used to say, ‘You can have everything in life you want, if you will just help enough other people get what they want.’ Live by that and you will be a social superstar.
In short, if you want to get more, you need to give more. Just think about the way the economy works: generally, the better your products, services or skills, the more you will earn. The more value you give, the more value you get.
The first law of influence, therefore, is ‘give to get’. This is the most important of all the laws; it not only boosts your success but also, as you will discover, your health and happiness.
Adam Grant, a psychologist and professor at the University of Pennsylvania, has found that you can pretty much divide people into givers, takers and matchers. Givers are people who say, ‘Sow and ye shall reap.’ Bring value into the world and you will get it back – not necessarily immediately, but eventually. When people see that you’re a giver, they will naturally want to reciprocate. Takers are people who say, ‘It’s a dog-eat-dog world, so you better take it all before somebody else does.’ What these people don’t realize is that they are the dog! Matchers are people who say, ‘If you sow, then I will sow.’ You don’t want to be on a team full of matchers, where everybody waits for everybody else until everybody starves.
So, who do you think is the most successful: givers, takers or matchers? Without a doubt, givers. Who do you want as a friend, partner or team member – a giver, taker or matcher? We would all rather associate with givers. No wonder that the number-one quality people rate in a romantic partner is kindness. Everybody wants to be looked after and cared for.
Who do you think are the least successful people – givers, takers or matchers? You may think it’s takers, but takers can be successful if they hide their taking and con us into thinking they’re givers. In the extreme, these people could be psychopaths who have little empathy and really only care about themselves, but they are usually found out eventually. Jacob Zuma, the corrupt former president of South Africa, was a successful taker – but notice the word ‘was’. He may well spend the rest of his life answering for his actions in court. Don’t mistake short-term gain for long- term success.
In fact, the least successful people are also givers. Huh? It turns out that the way we give is important. You know those people who will do anything for anyone and allow themselves to be walked over? They are chronic people-pleasers who want to be liked by everyone. This type of giving leads them to become exploited and exhausted.
Intelligent givers know how to say no. They will not continue to give to someone who exploits them, or give so much that they have nothing left for themselves. That doesn’t mean they’re always looking for a direct return on their giving – that would be matching – but intelligent givers make sure they also look after themselves.
There are three kinds of giving, and each is critical to success:
1. Transactional giving
2. Generous giving
3. Psychological giving
Most people give the bare minimum. They’ll only give a customer what they paid for, do what their job prescribes or give their partner what they expect. This is transactional giving, where we only give what we know we have to. When they’re asked to do something more, these people say, ‘That’s not my job!’ What they don’t realize is that while it may not be their job, it could be their opportunity. People who serve beyond the call of duty are – surprise, surprise – more likely to be promoted and enjoy work more. These people are benefiting from the power of ‘generous giving’.
‘The meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of life is to give it away.’ Pablo Picasso
There is a well-known saying: under-promise, over-deliver. Think of how great you feel when you get more than you expect. Well, most people are like you! Generous giving means going beyond what you have to do, which might not always come naturally to you. (I know it doesn’t always to me…) Yet the giver usually gets a bigger reward than the recipient in the end.
I once presented at an aeronautical company. Some of the country’s top rocket scientists (literally) were being recognized for excellence, and the CEO wanted to convey a message reminding them that no matter how brilliant a single individual may be, we can only rocket to true greatness when we serve.
I started off sharing research by Harvard professor Shawn Achor, which shows that people who pick up slack for their co- workers, organize social activities and generally serve beyond their job description are ten times more engaged. That means they’re happier and having more fun.
I continued: ‘Service isn’t the job you do for a wage. It’s not what you have to do; it’s what you do beyond. This is part of what makes it satisfying – it’s a freely chosen act of kindness. But if you don’t want to serve people because you don’t like people, serve people because you like yourself. High-servers are 40% more likely to get promoted in the next two years. Want to get more? Give more. Don’t you just love that expression, “That’s not my job!” No – but it could be your opportunity.’
The event finished late at night. As I was about to leave, I noticed my client beginning to dismantle one of about 25 corporate banners. I asked if she needed a hand, expecting her to decline the offer and wave me off with thanks for a great event. ‘That would be great,’ she replied. ‘You can start with those five at the back and take them to the van outside.’
I tried to hide my surprise and disappointment. It would take me at least an hour to drive home, and I had an early flight the next morning. And then the words I had parodied earlier popped into my head: That’s not my job.
I know, I know. Hypocrite. Some things are easier to say than to do.
So I loosened my tie, rolled up my sleeves and got to work. After I got over the initial shock of having to actually follow my own advice, a strange thing happened: I started enjoying myself. Yes, it was good to be pulling my weight with a team, to receive their smiling thanks. But it was also fun to do be doing something I don’t often do: lift and carry, under a starry sky. Then there was sitting together afterwards to eat a late-night dessert while getting to know what it’s like to work with actual rocket scientists. That would have been more than enough; getting a note of thanks a week later made that tiny act of service a true gift … to me!
I’m not sure that service comes naturally to all of us. A more basic impulse may be to take before we give, to serve ourselves before we serve others. What I’ve realized is that serving others is the best way to serve ourselves, even if it’s easier to say than to do.
Generous giving really does make us happier. Scientists at the National Institutes of Health in the US gave people $5 while undergoing a brain scan.
The recipients were told they could either keep the $5 or give some of it to charity. Astonishingly, when they gave some of it away, there was significantly more activity in the reward center of the brain than when they kept it all for themselves.
The gift really is in the giving. An act of generosity – such as making your partner an unexpected cup of tea – boosts the giver’s emotional state nearly 50% more than the recipient’s. That should not be an excuse to tell your partner how much happier she would be if she made you a cup of tea! But it should remind us that the best way to serve ourselves is to serve others. Research even shows that not only are we happier when we serve others, the happiness we get lasts longer.
We know that beyond a middle-class income, earning more money doesn’t increase happiness, but for a long time scientists believed that socioeconomic status did. Your socioeconomic status measures the amount of success and money you have in comparison to those close to you. The theory was that if a close friend or family member had a nicer car or home, that could create envy. Yet surprisingly, researchers eventually found that socioeconomic status did not have much of an effect on happiness. The revelation came when researchers asked people to rate how much they respected and admired one another. Here they found a direct connection: the more admired and respected a person, the happier they were.
You can be a rich CEO, but if you feel that everyone loathes you, you’re going to be miserable. You can be a hairdresser or a primary school teacher, but if you are a respected contributor to your community, you’re going to feel a whole lot better than that CEO. Psychologists call this sociometric status – the degree to which someone is liked or disliked by their peer group. How do you become more liked and respected and increase your sociometric status? Simple. Give more! People love givers. Get engaged with your community, contribute, add value.
Amazingly, generous giving doesn’t just make us happier, it makes us live longer. Scientists asked people two questions:
1. How much stress have you experienced in the last year?
2. How much time have you spent helping people in your community?
First the bad news: for every major stressor, such as divorce or bankruptcy, the risk of dying increased by 30%. And the good news? People who spent time helping others showed absolutely no stress-related increase in dying. Nothing. Seems when you’re stressed, the best thing you can do is help someone.
This partly has to do with a hormone in the body called oxytocin. Emitted in a mother’s milk to facilitate bonding with her baby, oxytocin is also known as the cuddle chemical because of the warm feelings of love and connection it creates. Not only does oxytocin make us more loving and kind, it’s also a natural anti-inflammatory that helps heart cells regenerate and recover after stress-related damage. Need an oxytocin boost? You don’t have to look for a breast-feeding mother! Hug someone, help someone, or seek or give social support; you’ll give yourself a natural oxytocin high and inoculate yourself against the negative effects of stress.
Don’t try to be a person of success; be a person of value, and then success will follow.
Giving is not always physical; in fact, the giving that feels best is usually psychological. This is when we give people love, respect and attention. Psychologists tell us that happiness and high self- esteem are virtually the same thing. You can’t really be happy if you don’t feel good about yourself.
Ideally, we build that self-esteem from the inside – but we are social creatures, and a large part of our self-worth comes from the love and attention that we get from others. More than our self-worth, our early survival depends on it.
In the 1940s, in some orphanages, while infants were fed, clothed and kept clean, they were not held, stroked or spoken to. It was thought that this would help prevent the spread of germs. Yet in these so-called ‘sterile orphanages’, death rates were over 75%. Those infants who did survive were more likely to be sick and their growth stunted.6 Scientists gradually realized that for a person to survive and thrive, meeting their psychological needs was as important as meeting their physical needs. It’s not just orphans: all of us need love and attention. When you give it, you make people feel valued – and that increases your influence and your own wellbeing.