Influence Is Your Superpower: Five Things I Learnt from Dr Zoe Chance

As an MC, journalist and entrepreneur, I am constantly trying to influence people… from coaxing a scoop out of an interviewee for my podcast, the Global GoalsCast to winning a pitch for a new piece of work as a host or communication trainer.

So I was thrilled to have the opportunity to speak with Dr Zoe Chance, an award-winning behavioural scientist and professor, for a How to Academy event.

Zoe knows a LOT about influence. 

Some of this comes from sales. Zoe was a brand manager at Mattel, selling an average of two Barbies per second and wielding far too much influence over my daughters’ Christmas wish lists! 

She later studied under behavioural economics rockstar, Dan Ariely, before making the full transition into academia. 

She now teaches Yale School of Managements most popular class, Mastering Influence and Persuasion. 

Zoe has an extraordinary way of making big ideas in psychology, business and economics accessible and incredibly applicable to our everyday lives. 

If only she was teaching when I was doing my MA at Yale!

Here are five key takeaways from our discussion: 

1. We are born with an innate ability to influence others

From the moment we hatch out of the egg, we are influencing people to feed us, keep us warm, take care of us, protect us. We really have nothing else.”

For Zoe, the ability to influence others is not just a tool that benefits us in the world of work or relationships, it is integral to our very survival. 

In his landmark book Sapiens, Yuval Noah Harari notes that humans rule the world because of our ability to cooperate in extremely flexible ways with countless numbers of strangers.” Zoe goes one step further, arguing that this human superpower derives from our ability to influence and persuade each other to cooperate. 

2. When trying to influence others, stand up!

When I lead communication workshops, my go-to piece of advice is to stand up. 

Standing up helps me to express the lower tones in my voice; and when speaking in public, a lower pitch is generally perceived by audiences as more commanding and trustworthy. 

Zoe suggests that this trust derives from an appearance of comfort and confidence; something that is achieved when you stand-up, relax and access your natural low registers.

In turn, she suggests that an audience will interpret that there are reasons for you to be confident and that they should trust you, be interested in what youre saying, and also like you”. 

Crucially, an audience is comfortable when you are comfortable. 

3. First impressions count

Whether someone likes you, can be determined in the first seven seconds of you meeting them – first impressions really do count.

Zoe claims that to influence effectively, it is more important that somebody likes you, than perceives you as competent – particularly if you are a woman. The key to being liked is demonstrating warmth. 

Emphasizing the gendered nature of this, she argues that Men who are warm generally do better than men who are not. Men who are not warm, can still do okay”. All too often, a lack of warmth in women is commonly associated with negative traits like bossy-ness.

Crucially, this does not mean that for a woman to be liked, she needs to be a pushover. 

Zoe is also quick to highlight that you do not need to be liked by everyone to be successful. 

The reality is that warmth, especially for women, is an incredibly powerful tool when interacting with others. 

3. If you want a promotion, ask the magic question!

Framing is the key to changing perceptions and behaviours.

If you want to kill the estate tax, call it a death tax. If you want people to care about global warming, call it the climate crisis. 

When it comes to eliciting a certain response, it is equally important to consider how you frame your questions. 

For example, if you want to ask your manager for a promotion, Zoes advice is to ask What would it take for me to get to the next level?”

Firstly, its far less scary than asking for a promotion directly!

Secondly, your manager would love you to be happily engaged, productive and succeeding in your role and therefore has an incentive to support you. 

Once your manager has laid out a roadmap to promotion, they have implicitly committed to promoting you in future, once their criteria has been achieved. 

4. When speaking truth to power, assume that they are on your team.

My daughter recently started a petition to change her school’s policy around ear piercings.

Zoe had some incredible advice for her.

Firstly, approach the headteacher as an ally before submitting the petition.

Secondly, assume that the headteacher is on your team. You both have a shared goal to make the school great, help the students look smart and help the children to thrive – you just disagree on how to do this.

Next, ask the headteacher to explain why the policy exists – make them feel heard.

Then, highlighting the concerns of the student body, express a clear message of cooperation:

“We dont want to fight you, we want to work with you and we would love to work with you”.

Lastly… ask the magic question, What would it take to change this policy?”.

Her campaign cant fail!

It was such a joy talking to Zoe. If anything from our conversation piqued your interest, I urge you all to go out and buy Zoes new book, Influence is Your Superpower: How to Get What You Want Without Compromising Who You Are.