How to be more powerful in your everyday life

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Be influential. Like Superman.
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Warner Bros.

Consider the entry-level employee in a team meeting. His boss presents the plan for an upcoming project and to the entry-level guy, it sounds kind of problematic.

If he raises his hand and says as much, he might come off as presumptuous or pushy.

But if he sits there and nods politely, he might be ignored and his opinions brushed aside.

These hypothetical scenarios are an example of what Columbia Business School professor Adam Galinksy calls the “low-power double bind.” If you don’t speak up, you go unnoticed. If you do, you get punished.

In a recent TEDx Talk in New York, Galinsky explained how people in seemingly low-power positions can expand their range of acceptable behaviors and therefore wield greater influence in different social contexts.

He highlighted three strategies in particular that can help you become more influential, whether you’re an entry-level worker at a team meeting or you’re trying to negotiate down the price of a car.

1. Take the other person’s perspective

“When you think about what the other person wants, they’re more likely to give you what you want,” Galinsky told the audience.

In 2008, Galinsky and colleagues published a paper suggesting that perspective-taking is a helpful way to reach a mutually desirable outcome in negotiations. Here’s how one experiment went down: Participants played the roles of a buyer and a seller negotiating the price of a gas station. The max the buyer was willing to pay was less than the minimum the seller was willing to accept.

“Buyers” were told that they wanted to hire managers to run the station. “Sellers” were told they needed help paying for a sailboat trip and also needed to find a job after getting back.

The ideal solution would be a sale below the seller’s desired price but with the stipulation that the seller would get hired afterward.

Results showed that students who were told to engage in perspective-taking – considering what the other person was thinking – were more likely to reach the ideal outcome. Perspective-taking worked even better than empathy, or considering what the other person was feeling.

This process is hard, Galinsky admitted. But “when we take someone’s perspective,” he said, “it allows us to be ambitious and assertive, but still be likable.”

2. Ask other people for advice

The goal here is to earn strong allies.

“When we ask others for advice,” Galinsky said, “they like us because we flatter them, and we’re expressing humility.”

In fact, 2011 research found that asking for people’s advice can make them think better of you.

In one experiment, researchers had participants read about a new (fictional) restaurant concept and then provide either their advice, opinion, or expectations about the restaurants. When researchers asked participants how likely they were to try one of the restaurants, those who’d given their advice were most willing to eat there.

That’s likely because the advice-givers felt closer to the organization than the other participants; they had to temporarily adopt the organization’s perspective in order to give an answer.

3. Tap into your passion

Another route to confidence and influence, Galinsky said, is expertise. And displaying passion is a great way to come off as an expert. Your eyes light up and you speak quickly; what’s more, other people lean in and listen carefully

“When we tap into our passion,” Galinsky said, “we give ourselves the courage, in our own eyes, to speak up, but we also get the permission from others to speak up.”

Galinsky cited one 2016 study that found people are perceived as more competent when they attribute the same behaviors – such as bursting into tears at work – to their tremendous passion as opposed to their emotionality.

Bottom line: You may not be able to change your position on the corporate hierarchy, but you can imbue yourself with the confidence and clearheadedness to speak your mind and get what you want.

As Galinsky said, our potential is hardly fixed. Instead, our “roles and ranges are constantly expanding and evolving.”