14 steps to a better you – influence others in a positive way

In Too lazy to assign a category on May 26, 2008 at 10:24 pm

Living together and working together is easier if you know how to motivate and inspire others. Whether it's your children, partner, friends or colleagues, there are many advantages to approaching others in a positive way. They'll appreciate your company more, will often be more prepared to help you, and will value your opinion more.

The power of a compliment

An important and fun way to inspire someone is to give them a compliment. One of the most important needs people have is the need for recognition and appreciation. A compliment can meet those needs. By giving a compliment you give others a good feeling about what they're doing, as well as the feeling that what they're doing is appreciated. Still, people are very sparse when it comes to giving compliments. They think other people will lean back whenever they get a compliment. If you for example tell your daughter a C+ is good, she might think she doesn't need to study. That's the reason most people are rather harsh. They whine and threaten others in the hope the other person will do what they want them to do. Most of the time this doesn't work though. The other person feels they've failed and is discouraged. A compliment, on the other hand, does work. Praising your daughter (it's good you still got a C+ for that difficult topic) increases the chance she'll work hard at school. The compliment encourages her to work hard. Complimenting someone doesn't guarantee positive behaviour, but chances are better. Compliments also augment people's self-worth. Children especially need to hear something positive once in a while. They need even more affirmation than adults.

To the point and sincere

In order to have the desired effect, compliments should meet certain requirements.

Rule 1: be sincere

Only give compliments you really mean. People will know if you don't mean it. At times it's difficult to come up with something positive and if you really can't come up with something you could tell the other person how you'd like something to be done, and how you'd appreciate it. You could for example say (to stick with the daughter at school example): "It would mean a lot to me if you'd work harder at school".

Rule 2: say why

Most people only say what they appreciate, and forget about the why. If a friend just got a hair cut and you only say: "Your hair looks nice", it might seem you only want to be polite. You're also complimenting the hair dresser, instead of your friend. Say for example: "You chose a nice hair cut, it really fits your style".

Rule 3: start with their first name

By mentioning someone's first name, the compliment gets really personal. You show them the compliment is really meant for them. People also pay more attention to sentences in which their name is mentioned. To a colleague you could for instance say: "Paul, you did really well on that report".

Don't get all wound up

Influencing others in a positive way isn't only done by giving people compliments, but also by not reacting in a negative way to others, even if they're trying to provoke you. Whenever someone makes an unreasonable or critical remark, most people automatically get all defensive. Not because they're looking for a fight, but because they want to protect their sense of self-worth. Unfortunately there's a risk of escalation, because the reactions back and forth might get more damaging and hurtful. Try not to react immediately. Stay calm and friendly. Ask for clarification or say you didn't know there was a problem. If you stay calm, friendly and positive, there's a chance of "emotional contamination". Emotional contamination is the phenomenon that people, unintentionally, mimic other people's facial expressions, body language and emotions. Research shows emotional contamination works best with positive things. People are more likely to mimic a smile than a frown.

Cool down

It's not easy to remain friendly and positive when for example your partner is in an awful mood. It requires self control and empathy. Following tips can help you to remain calm and in a good mood.

Tip 1: take a time-out

If, during a conversation, you get very upset, angry or stressed, a time-out is a sensible thing to take. Go to the bathroom, or go for a walk. Tell your partner you're going to do something else for a bit, because you're too upset or angry or stressed. You can e.g. agree to continue the conversation in an hour, or the next day.

Tip 2: display opposite behaviour

If you're angry or stressed, it might help to show some opposite behaviour. Relax and try to look friendly. Tell the other person you care for them, or slowly drink a glass of water. Because your senses get a different kind of input, your brain thinks you're no longer angry.

Tip 3: reflect

Ask yourself why someone is reacting in an angry or unreasonable way. Try to see their side. Wonder whether they're tense or tired. Perhaps something happened at work or school.

Showing involvement

In order to stimulate people, it also helps if you show involvement in what they're doing. In order to stimulate your daughter to do her homework, you could show an interest in the topics she is studying at school. Remarks like "I will think of you when you're taking your exam" or "You can call me any time whenever you need help" are helpful too. Research shows people will perform better that way.

People might also feel stimulated if you involve them in what's important for you. Ask a colleague their opinion about a project you're leading, or ask your partner to help you sort the holiday pictures for example. Even though you can do those things yourself, perhaps even better, you give people the idea their contribution is appreciated.


Think about someone you'd like to compliment, for example your child, partner, neighbour or colleague. Resolve to compliment them next time you see them. Already write down what you could say.

Think about someone close who has to do something difficult soon, or who has an appointment they're not looking forward to, like an exam, a doctor's appointment or a boring meeting. Resolve to say something supportive. Already think about what you could say and write it down. Next time you'll see this person, follow through. Intent on saying something supportive at least once a day.

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