How Can You Influence Others? Learn These Essential Skills

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Becoming Bulletproof" by Evy Poumpouras. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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How can you influence others in your life? How can influencing others be positive? What skills should you learn?

As a former special agent in the U.S. Secret Service, Evy Poumpouras knows how to understand others’ true feelings and intentions through careful observation. In her book, Becoming Bulletproof, she explains how you can influence the reactions and behaviors of others.

Keep reading to learn how you can influence others in your life, according to Poumpouras.

How to Influence Others

According to Evy Poumpouras, once you better understand yourself and know how to understand others, you can use this information to influence others in your life, whether at work or in your personal relationships. The ability to influence others helps you be more resilient because you can get what you want out of various social interactions. Knowing how you can influence others can improve your life in dramatic ways—your relationships, work life, and well-being will all benefit.

Influencing, however, is not about manipulating or deceiving someone: It’s about empathizing, building trust, and using subtle strategies to affect the way someone thinks or acts. Let’s first look at the need to establish empathy and then discuss methods of influence.

Why Empathy Is Important  

Poumpouras says you must empathize with others before you can influence them. If people feel you empathize with their situation or perspective, they’re more likely to trust you, let their guard down, and be more open and honest with you. If you try to change other people through pressure, on the other hand, people are likely to pick up on it. When they do, they’ll get defensive, lose trust in you, and be suspicious of your motives. Once this trust is lost it’s hard to get back.

How to Build Trust

Poumpouras argues that practicing empathy builds trust, and trust is crucial when trying to influence others. In The Speed of Trust, Stephen Covey provides additional tips on how to get others to trust you:

Be genuine: People who feel your intentions match your words and actions are more likely to trust you.

Be humble: People are more likely to trust you if you’re open about your mistakes and imperfections. 

Show you’re capable: If you make it clear that you’re effective and capable of getting things done, people will have more faith in you.

Methods of Influence

Once you’ve shown that you empathize with someone, you can then influence their behavior using three tactics. 

Active Listening

Poumpouras argues that one of the most reliable ways to influence others is to actively listen. If you do this, they’ll feel valued and respected, and they’ll be more likely to listen to what you have to say. When communicating with others, especially one-on-one, put down your phone, maintain eye contact, and make it clear that you hear what they’re saying. An added benefit of actively listening is that you can carefully observe the other person’s behavior, increasing your ability to understand them and further influence their behavior in other ways.

Two Ways People Display Inattentiveness 

In What Got You Here Won’t Get You There, Marshall Goldsmith elaborates on why failing to listen is such a bad habit and explains the two main ways people display this habit. When you don’t listen to others, you show them that you think they’re unimportant and unworthy of your time. This will make them lose respect for you or even resent you.

One way people show they’re not listening is by looking away while someone is talking to them. This is a subtle way of displaying your inattentiveness, but frustrating nevertheless. A more direct and offensive way people show they’re not listening is by trying to hurry a person as they speak. They might do this by looking at their watch or simply telling them to get on with it. This is likely to really get under the skin of the person talking and have a negative impact on the relationship and the other person’s trust.


Priming is a strategy of influence that subtly affects a person’s mental or emotional state before or at the beginning of an interaction, allowing you to set the tone and direction of the conversation. According to Poumpouras, you can prime someone with words, body language, or by manipulating the environment. 

A therapist, for example, may want to create a welcoming, relaxing environment, so she sets up the office in a way that reflects that: She uses soft lighting, soothing colors, and an open book on the table. When the patient enters the room, the therapist’s word choice and body language also reflects a welcoming feeling. She opens up her body and hands, gesturing to have a seat. When she greets a patient, she says, “Make yourself at home” and asks if there’s anything she can do to make them more comfortable. Without realizing it, her patients will be more willing to talk openly because she primed them to feel that way.

(Shortform note: While some types of priming are well-established, many theories on priming have been called into question as new experiments fail to replicate past findings. For instance, the irreproducibility of social priming (the power of suggestion to influence behavior) research is so drastic that it has led to a “replication crisis” in the field of social psychology.)

Use Spatial Dynamics

Poumpouras argues that in your day-to-day life, you can use physical spacing to affect how others think, feel, or act toward you. The physical distance between people in conversation says a lot about their relationship, and you can change that distance to signal a change in the relationship. Generally, the closer we are with someone emotionally, the closer we’ll be to them physically. We are fine with our friends, partners, and family being in our personal space or even touching us. When we talk to strangers or acquaintances, we usually keep our distance to a few feet or more.

Therefore, if you’re trying to show a loved one you care about them, put a hand on their shoulder. If you want to show a coworker they can speak openly with you, move closer during a conversation. This will make them feel a more intimate and personal connection with you without saying a word.

(Shortform note: Using the space between you and others can have its advantages, but you also need to make sure you don’t invade another’s personal space. Violating another’s personal space can have negative psychological effects, like triggering our fight, flight, or freeze response and impacting our cognitive processing abilities. Invading someone’s space thus might generate the opposite response you want in the other person.)

How Can You Influence Others? Learn These Essential Skills

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Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best book summary and analysis of Evy Poumpouras's "Becoming Bulletproof" at Shortform.

Here's what you'll find in our full Becoming Bulletproof summary:

  • How to become a stronger, more resilient person
  • How to understand others’ true feelings and intentions
  • Strategies to affect the way someone thinks or acts

Emily Kitazawa

Emily found her love of reading and writing at a young age, learning to enjoy these activities thanks to being taught them by her mom—Goodnight Moon will forever be a favorite. As a young adult, Emily graduated with her English degree, specializing in Creative Writing and TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language), from the University of Central Florida. She later earned her master’s degree in Higher Education from Pennsylvania State University. Emily loves reading fiction, especially modern Japanese, historical, crime, and philosophical fiction. Her personal writing is inspired by observations of people and nature.

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