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Building Influence without Power by being Meaningful

I recently spent some time with a great group of folks from Premier Analytical Services. Part of the day was spent exploring interviewing skills and how you get to know the real person, not the one on their CV or application form. It got me thinking about the notion of influence, which I thought I’d share with you; should that be of interest to you!


Let’s start by thinking about influence. What does that word mean to you? What images come to mind? Whatever it means to you, or you imagine it means, could you accomplish anything in life without it?

Just for a moment, imagine yourself without influence and you probably quickly realise that it is one of the most important skills you can learn. Whether it’s in business or at home, influence is how you make things happen and move forward. Influence is how you achieve what you want.

In fact, whatever way you think about it, you want to be able to influence others. This is especially true if you want to be a successful leader or manager of people.

As Winston Churchill once said,

“Leadership is not about influence, leadership IS influence.”


But, it’s obviously not just leaders and managers who influence. We all have the power to influence. Parents, teachers, broadcasters all have the power. But, and please make the note, when you influence without being aware of the other person’s needs and outcomes you are really influencing in the dark and your ‘success’ might be just a happy accident.

Building Influence by being Meaningful

NLP & Meaningful Influence

I have learnt a lot about influence from my studies of NLP and key writers such as Ian McDermott, Robert Dilts and Charles Faulkner.

In doing so I have learned that influence only happens when something means something. Meaning is what engages us. Meaning is what makes us emotional. Meaning is what lets us know what we’re all about. What is meaningful to us is what really matters.  After all, if something is meaningless, it might get our attention for a brief time, but it won’t really influence us.

Charles Faulkner puts it well when he says that:

“The more meaningful something is to us, the more emotions we will have about it. So, influence is the ability to affect what something means to someone”

Because, as I suspect you know, everyone takes action when it comes to what really matters to them. I have come to believe that you can substantially increase your influence by interacting with others in more meaningful ways. And the good news is that doing this doesn’t mean you pretending to be anything other than who you are.

meaningful questions

In fact, you will get to be more of who you are as you encourage others to express more of who they are. So, the next time you are having an interaction with someone ask yourself these key questions:

  • What does what I am saying and doing mean to this person?
  • What else could it mean?
  • What could I do to encourage that?

meaningful interview questions

For a moment, let’s return to the interviewing situation. One of the ways you can exert influence as an interviewer and, at the same time find out more about the real person sat with you, is through using questions such as:

  • What do you like about your/any job?
  • What attracted you to your current job?

You could then probe for their values by asking:

  • What’s important to you about your/any job?
  • What do you value about your/any job?

Understanding Meaningfulness TO exert influence

You see, a person’s values are what’s important to them. They are the things that have meaning for them. I did some work with a large car sales company at the start of this year and got them to think about this notion when they were meeting a potential customer.

Imagine this scenario. A man walks into the showroom and is greeted by the salesperson. After the initial pleasantries have been exchanged, the salesperson asks, “Do you mind me asking what’s important to you when you are looking to buy a car?”

The man replies that he has a young family, so the car needs to have four doors, be safe and reliable, and also be economical.

If the salesperson says, “Thanks, that’s great. Come with me, I’d like to show you this soft-top sports car we have at a really great price” they would need shooting, wouldn’t they?

No, the savvy salesperson would think of all the cars that meet the potential customer’s values and criteria. That’s how the salesperson could exert influence.

And that, dear reader, is how you can become more influential in the lives of the people that you interact with; by finding out what is important to them and helping them get it.

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