How to Influence Others: The 3 Steps for Inspiring Change

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Influencer" by Joseph Grenny, Kerry Patterson, et al.. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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What is the key to influencing others? Why is it important to be an influencer?

Being an influencer means you can convince people to make positive changes in the world. In the book Influencer, the authors highlight three specific steps to take to be an influential person.

Here’s how to influence others in just three steps.

The Importance of Being an Influencer

The authors argue that influence is about more than just convincing people of something. It’s about understanding how and why they act the way they do, then finding ways to inspire and support them to change their behavior. According to the authors, being an effective influencer has broad implications across numerous fields, and it holds the potential to unlock big goals—from eliminating recidivism to saving thousands of lives.

The authors outline three steps to learning how to influence others:

Step 1: Influencers must outline specific and quantifiable goals. 

Step 2: Influencers must then identify one or two critical practices.

Step 3: Influencers must finally use every possible area of impact.

The Rise of the Term ‘Influencer’

In today’s vernacular, an influencer has come to mean someone who’s able to impact consumer decisions using their social media platform. While the word “influencer” has been in-use in the English language since the mid-1600s, the term only took on new meaning with the rise of social media marketing. In fact, the word “influencer” couldn’t be found in a dictionary prior to 2016. While some influencers happily claim the term, others balk at the title, arguing that there’s a distinction between people who get paid to sell products and those who create original content using social media as the platform. 

The authors of Influencer touch briefly on the common usage of the term “influencer,” but they make clear that they’re uninterested in the “lower” form of influence necessary to persuade an audience to buy a product. Their use of the term influencer more closely aligns with the first definition listed in Merriam-Webster: “a person who inspires or guides the actions of others.”

Step 1: Make Measurable Goals

To inspire people to change their behavior, effective influencers must first outline specific and quantifiable goals.

According to the authors, a strong goal has two parts: a clearly defined purpose and measurable benchmarks. They must be clear on what they want the long-term outcome to be. A specific and quantifiable goal allows everyone to know what you’re working toward and how you’ll know when you get there.

The authors offer the example of Don Berwick, former CEO of the Institute for Healthcare Improvement. During his tenure as CEO, Berwick wanted to address the fact that health care was the sixth leading cause of death in the United States. He made a goal to “save 100,000 lives…by June 14, 2006 at 9 a.m.” Not only was this goal clearly defined, but it also offered a concrete measure of success (saving 100,000 lives) and a timeline. 

Step 2: Identify the Critical Practices

Having established a measurable goal, influencers must then identify the critical practices necessary to reach that goal. They must know what behaviors need to change to make their goal possible. In this section, we’ll define critical practices and discuss strategies for identifying the critical practices that will be most impactful in reaching your desired outcome.

Critical practices are the behaviors that need to change to accomplish a goal. While identifying the necessary behavior changes can seem overwhelming, the authors argue that there are usually one or two critical practices that have a disproportionate impact on the desired outcome. For example, if you wanted to minimize texting-related car accidents, a critical behavior might be placing cell phones out of reach while driving. 

Identifying critical practices can be challenging. The authors outline several strategies you can use to identify critical practices.

First, always start with the basics. Sometimes the critical practices are the most obvious ones. For example, 79% of people killed in bicycle accidents between 2010 and 2017 weren’t wearing a helmet, and yet a 2016 study revealed that 56% of participants said they never wear a bike helmet. Putting on a bike helmet before going for a bike ride is a critical practice that has a disproportionate impact on the number of fatal bike accidents.

If you’re feeling stuck, look for the anomalies. If one person or institution is having success where many are failing, ask what they’re doing differently. For example, if one teacher in a school has significantly fewer classroom management issues than his colleagues, you might observe his class, and look for teaching practices he uses that aren’t being used in other classrooms. 

When attempting to implement a critical practice, consider your timing. The authors explain that identifying a critical practice isn’t just about identifying the right behavior, but identifying the right behavior at the right time. For example, experts say that when potty training children, the timing of when you introduce the new behavior is critical—too early and your child won’t be ready, too late and they’ll be harder to train. 

It can also help to check for blind spots. Sometimes the critical practices are the ones that challenge the status quo. These behaviors can often be the hardest to initiate because they defy long-standing behavior expectations and often require changing the culture itself. For example, in the US, people say “I’m fine” when someone asks how they’re doing, regardless of how they’re actually feeling. Getting people to be honest about how they’re feeling would be a challenging norm to change.

Finally, the authors emphasize the importance of testing your hypothesis. Just because you’ve identified what you think is a critical practice doesn’t mean it’s the right one or the one that will have the impact that you hope for. Sometimes a well-intentioned critical practice has unpredictable outcomes. For example, as some companies have shifted to unlimited paid time off (PTO) policies to attract workers and address employee burnout, studies suggest that employees with unlimited PTO actually end up taking less time off. So as you’re attempting to implement critical practices, make sure the critical practice has the outcome you want it to. 

Step 3: Use Every Area of Impact

After creating a goal and identifying critical practices, the third step of being an influencer is using every tool in your toolbox to encourage the adoption of the necessary critical practices.

To ensure that people adopt critical practices, influencers must exert as much influence as possible wherever possible. (Shortform note:  Unlike the authors of Influencer, some self-help authors, like Tony Robbins, focus only on the individual’s ability to change their own behavior, without acknowledging the multiple co-existing variables that impact an individual’s conscious and unconscious decision-making.)

The authors suggest that two main variables affect behavior: inspiration and skill. They identify six areas of impact that influence people’s ability and desire to change their behavior:

  • Individual Inspiration: Do I want to do it?
  • Collective Inspiration: Do the people around me encourage me to do it?
  • Environmental Inspiration: Do the systems in place incentivize me to do it?
  • Individual Skill: Can I do it?
  • Collective Skill: Do the people around me empower me to do it?
  • Environmental Skill: Do the systems in place give me what I need to do it?

According to the authors, many would-be influencers make the mistake of trying to effect change haphazardly, attempting to make changes in only one or two areas at a time. This rarely works. Instead, the authors argue that taking advantage of all six areas of impact will all but guarantee that the critical practices are adopted.

How to Influence Others: The 3 Steps for Inspiring Change

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

  • A three-step guide on how to influence human behavior
  • How to change the minds of those who are unmotivated to change
  • How you can use the power of community connection to inspire people

Katie Doll

Somehow, Katie was able to pull off her childhood dream of creating a career around books after graduating with a degree in English and a concentration in Creative Writing. Her preferred genre of books has changed drastically over the years, from fantasy/dystopian young-adult to moving novels and non-fiction books on the human experience. Katie especially enjoys reading and writing about all things television, good and bad.

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