Influence is a conversational form of power driven by our human relationship with the speaker and their choice of language, though it can also represent itself strictly on ideas alone if the language has captured them.

An influencer is controlling a story, typically to advance forward an idea or change someone’s reputation, with implications of power dynamics defining who maintains more influence.

When we are persuaded toward something, the influencer has effectively conveyed a feeling that makes us more willing to trust and consider the ideas toward the influencer’s purpose.


Influence is trying to change the story someone already has about something. Over time, this influence becomes our reputation.

Every influential action someone makes has a purpose behind it:

We’re not always aware of these motivators. From our early childhood, we’ve been trying to influence others (starting with our caretakers), and often obliviously influence others habitually.

The most significant purpose we ever have with others is to be important. Importance is others giving value to us, so this importance can take the form of just about anything. However, its motivation (at least at first before it becomes a habitual desire) is the neglected wish to be loved.

Our desire to be important provokes us to convey the things that gain the most favor from others, which are often our most pleasant qualities in the long-term. Everything, from art to storefronts, has a disgusting side shrouded from public view that contrasts to a comparatively attractive external. Most people often feel like they’re impostors because they don’t realize everyone else is doing the same thing.

Even unpleasant actions like whining and complaining can be a form of influence. However, its purpose is to elicit pity from others about an unattainable purpose, not to gain power by implying we have power already. It’s the easiest thing to do (i.e., feel sorry for yourself), so most people don’t respect it and it sabotages other forms of power in the process.


Broadly, every influential thing has 5 components:

  1. Simple enough to evoke base feelings, which will hit a human universal.
  2. Unexpected, which varies by intellect, creativity and experience.
  3. Practical, which solidifies in something that appears real.
  4. Sentimental, which tend to push feelings into the realms of humor, love, or fear.
  5. Composed as a story.

Influential people are using image to draw from others’ imagination about reality, so they have a vast toolbox to draw from:

  • The various feelings we can evoke with our choice of words.
  • Provoking recollection of others’ past favor toward us or affiliations with us as we speak.
  • Even repulsion or rejection can be used for influence in the right hands (e.g., bad press, reverse psychology).

Skillful influence requires careful language placement to emphasize or sidestep specific words and sensations. The entire experience will feel like an elaborate story to the listener. While the approach and purposes are different, it’s the same mechanism for magicians, thieves, and advertisers.

People pay close attention to the messenger:

  • That messenger must appear to have authority on what they’re talking about.
    • The authority usually comes through bold confidence or an appearance of prior success, but can also come through choice of clothing.
    • Their authority should appear to be effortless to them.
    • Even if it’s not authority in competence, they can still demonstrate moral authority (e.g., clergy).
    • Staying quiet, taking time to go through things, or appearing unaffected by others’ behavior or status can imply a lot of authority (i.e., “meekness”).
    • However, if that authority is too strong, it may terrify people (especially if their power is threatened).
  • The message and messenger should associate with something the audience finds advantageous to them:
    • Scandalous or specialized information, like gossip or special secrets/tricks.
    • While appealing to their mercy or gratitude may work, they’re more frequently affected by self-interest.
    • Sometimes (and especially if the messenger is unscrupulous), the messenger may possess incriminating information or circumstances that may harm the audience if the messenger did something with it.
    • Often, uses a personal message with the pronoun “we” instead of “I”.
  • They should share something in common with the audience, but only if the audience may want to be like the messenger:
    • If the listener is disposed to believe the message already, the messenger will feel more honest.
    • A similar cultural association to the audience in attributes, preference, or social group.
    • Sharing some key detail with the person, such as last name, appearance, or social connections.
    • Reflecting back the recipient’s behaviors and mannerisms.
    • Appearing to be less intelligent or educated than the audience, even when they’re very capable.
    • Even with nothing else, a messenger can often create a bond by giving something to the audience without asking for anything in return.
  • The messenger must be charming:
    • Consistently draws attention to themselves and associated to trends that make them constantly surrounded by people (and may even become a trend value of their own if others believe in them).
    • Physically attractive, or at least decent-looking and well-kept.
    • Gives affirmations to the audience to make them feel important, even when those affirmations are complete lies.
    • Keeps a mystery around them by omitting or hiding information, making themselves relatively scarce by comparison to others, and evoking a small amount of fear.
    • When confronted about wrongdoing or failings, changes (or at least appears to) enough to imply a trend but not enough to generate unease, and is never seen doing anything questionable.

That story will reach into the audience’s existing habits:

  • “Signaling” by referencing familiar things to the audience.
  • Getting people to say “yes” or agree multiple times.
  • Asking for people to keep behaving the way they were, but tiny variances of acting in small ways against how they identify such as changing clothing or shifting routines.

The setting also plays a huge part on the story:

  • Audiences are more likely to receive information in a casual setting (e.g., coffee shop) than a formal setting (e.g., business boardroom).
  • They tend to be more open-minded in the evening after they’ve tired out their mind all day.
  • We’re more likely to receive new ideas either when eating/drinking or just coming from eating/drinking.

Typically, the story will allude to a mystery the audience already wanted to know before the speaker expressed anything about it.

The story must give a clear purpose at the end:

  • In effect, the audience must feel that the changes required for that purpose are worth it.
  • The purpose must resonate with a clear, easily understood value with a logical consequence from the audience’s decision.
  • That value must aspire to an element of virtue. Even to people who only care about image or power, they still want to feel or look as if they were virtuous!
  • Have the audience physically interact or experience the item to feel its impact.
  • If the story is tied to the messenger at all, the messenger will express their current (or potentially future) state as the end of their story.

Persuasion is the long-term effort of influence, and expresses the same regardless of speaking, conflicts, or relationships:

  1. Demonstrate why a belief may be worth investigating.
    • Prove the person is missing out on a growing trend. That way, people feel like others will like them and they’ll be important in a group.
  2. Communicate uncertainty about what they currently know.
    • Deepen the intricacies of the belief by adding understanding of multiple perspectives, with refutations for each one of them.
    • It may simply come through asking many “why?” questions to test what that person understands.
  3. Give a clue into the correct answer, but do not answer it all the way for the audience (which makes them find meaning in learning it themselves).
  4. Show the person there’s a good reason to change from whatever they had already purposed or believed.
    • They need more information to verify that their values calculus matches the impression of the trend.
    • This is usually through demonstrating a consequence of living according to that value.
  5. If it’s possible to revisit the discussion over time, continue indirectly dropping hints through further stories that reinforce the previous ideas. This gives certainty over time, which slowly converts to trust.
  6. With enough perseverance and no contradicting outside influence, anyone can convince anyone of anything if they don’t already have a deep conviction against it.


The ability to guide thoughts and feelings gives much more power than merely guiding actions, which is why people who pursue leadership roles give plenty of value to influence.

We call influential people “leaders”, but we all constantly swap from leading to following, moment by moment:

  1. When a person speaks, they “lead” with their idea. Every listener “follows”, proportional to their open-mindedness.
  2. When that person finishes speaking, they usually “follow” back by listening to the other person’s response.
  3. At any point, any follower can “challenge” that leadership by interrupting or correcting that person.
  4. While an uneven distribution of power has one of the people leading more (such as in parenting or group leadership), a general friendship among peers will each share about 50% of the power.

We don’t often see it, but the image we’re trying to convey as we’re influencing often becomes our self-image/identity. While trying to win people over, we tend to win ourselves over as well. Associating with strong people will make us stronger, having entrepreneur friends will make us more risk-resistant, and successful living requires successful associates.

Often, people who can manage their fear discover opportunities hiding behind a crisis:

These people often become leaders and heroes, depending on the circumstance. If they ever fall from that position (i.e., their humanity is expressed for what it really is) we tend to never forgive them.


At its farthest, a highly influential and immoral person can “gaslight” other people, which effectively allows complete power over that person:

  1. Intentionally distort the truth
  2. Provoke that person to trust them implicitly
  3. Drive them to distrust their own perception

Cults are effectively gaslighting entire groups of people.

Most bad systems are simply the logical consequence of exploiting how people are influenced, mixed with anyone with a scrupulous enough personality in a position of power to confront them.

Often, people will naturally avoid giving freely to others for the purpose of garnering more positive connection (as counter-intuitive as it sounds).

Quite a few tricks can be abused to dishonestly gain others’ favor:

  • Make an appearance of performing more kindness or possessing more competence than they really do, often with elegant story-telling.
  • Request others share intimate personal information (their birthday, favorite hobbies) or assist with small tasks to imply a friendship.
  • Give small things with an implicit meaning to imply that person is important.
  • Declare a vague attribute about others (e.g., a strong-willed person), which provokes bias that confirms what they were alluding to.

Further, people are more susceptible to influence when they’re rushed, overwhelmed, distracted, indifferent, stressed, or distrustful.

When provoking people to give resources, our bias constructs a specific procedure that’s so straightforward that most not-for-profit organizations are bad systems by abusing our systems of guilt and shame:

  1. Win their favor enough that they’ll hear out the request.
  2. Give something at first without asking anything in return.
  3. Ask in a vague sense if they’re a “good” person and willing to help someone in need.
  4. A short time later, approach them again and ask for a trivial request they’d likely do already (e.g., be a safe driver).
  5. Ask for a significant amount, then when they decline ask for something much smaller.
  6. Work upward to larger increments as they become habituated to consistently giving.
  7. Ask them to ask others as well.

Many influencers want to maintain the social connections that maintain their power. For that reason, influential people will continue to influence long after their season has passed.

Usually, they will apply their skills toward a perverse end, including distorting image and abusing the power they still wield. Often, they’ll treat abuse other people when they know they can exploit their power without any adverse consequences.

If they’re an important part of a social group, they’ll likely destroy the group with their efforts. But, if that group is large enough, that group will become dysfunctional if they don’t quickly eject that person from it.


Most people don’t naturally make others important, so everyone is incessantly starved for attention from others. It’s why the Ben Franklin Effect works (requesting others to perform many tiny small favors to build a reputation with them).

Even when you’re asking for donations, if you request something from someone make sure they know why they’re doing it and how it benefits them.

Since every influencer is advancing a story, it’s critical to understand the character roles being expressed in that person’s story. With expert skill influencing across other domains the influencer doesn’t have, a few well-placed words can often swap roles out.

If self-help and philosophy writers were humble and open-minded enough to let people come to their own conclusions, most of their books would never go past 50 pages unless it was covering multiple topics at once.

We’re all naturally sensitive to rejection, so we must be careful to not reject people without a purpose behind it, even when we face conflicts with others.

By giving more to people, they’re more likely to want to give back. This wins favors, but is a byproduct of being a loving person if we do it habitually without thinking of what we want in response.

We shouldn’t worry too much about what other people look like for comparison with ourselves. If you either look closely at how other people really see you or examine how their lives really are, you’ll find most people aren’t that different from you, and probably far less put-together than they appear.

A group built around complaining is as influential as a group built around succeeding. The only difference is the purpose the influence is directing toward.

We must be careful who we’re influencing with what. We tend to identify with what we’re trying to influence, so it should be good, true, beautiful things to attain the good life, and belief with what we share should have at least as much evidence proportionally to how unlikely it is.

Many self-interested people take advantage of our tendency to be influenced. Influence is simply power, though, and we can benefit others just as much by influencing toward good things.

Watch for easy ways people influence you without noticing, especially for selling things:

  • Behave with small idiosyncrasies like the people they’re speaking with.
  • Providing affirming, unsolicited compliments.
  • To get someone to buy something, have them write down a number that’s much larger than the product’s asking price.
  • To get someone to choose an ethnic product, expose them to background music of that ethnicity before letting them decide.
  • To get someone to try something new, first ask them if they consider themselves adventurous.
  • To get someone to select a popular item, show them a scary movie.
  • To get people to find things popular, call them popular beforehand.
  • To gain favor with someone, hand them a hot drink first.
  • Place a limited number of purchases per customer to see them purchase more.
  • To get people to be more helpful, have them observe photos of people standing close together first.
  • To get people more achievement-oriented, show them an image of a runner winning a race first.
  • To make people make more careful decisions, show them of someone thinking first.

Nerds and geeks don’t really care much about image, mostly because they don’t know how to wield it. However, they’re often less influential merely from not learning a few applications of the above essay.