Influencing others’ behavior by changing yours


Influence others

Influence others


A very important “collaborative” skillset to have is to ensure successful outcomes when you engage with people.   Effective leaders are skilled at influencing others’ behavior by changing their own.  This skill can be learned and practiced.  I have done it and so can you.

When I worked for State Bank of India more than a decade ago, I was not very social.  Having a short temper, mostly self-centered and very unmindful of others’ needs, I was the classic “before” character.  During my behavioral sciences training with the bank, I stumbled on “How to Win Friends and Influence People” by Dale Carnegie. 

Reading this book, internalizing the concepts and applying those concepts on people has been the single-most important factor in the transformation of my personality.

I recommend this book with a warning:  if understood and applied appropriately, this book can profoundly transform any individual.

Of the many successful experiments in engaging with people, I’d like to relate one particular anecdote, which took place around 1994-95 and produced results quite magical to me.

One evening as I returned from work I saw my group of friends gathered in my street corner.  I realized that something was amiss.  One of my friends Guptaji was disturbed for the past three days.

Turns out, one of Guptaji’s neighbors in his native village in Bihar (a state in the North-East part of India) was diagnosed with cancer and was admitted to the Tata Memorial Cancer Hospital in Mumbai.  The patient’s relatives had come down to Mumbai and were put up in a facility in Bandra (in western Mumbai) managed by the hospital.

Guptaji twice went to the facility to meet with the patient’s relatives, who he knew from childhood, having grown up in the village in Bihar.  He had no success.

The problem was that Guptaji only knew his neighbors’ last name.  And the name Singh in Bihar, is a lot more common than Lee in Seoul.  Furthermore, Guptaji did not have an exact date of their arrival or admission into the facility.

Since the register was maintained manually, in the pre-database era in that facility, Guptaji was at the mercy of the clerk.  His repeated trips only made matters worse.

So much so that when I offered to go with Guptaji, he was hesitant.  But I not only convinced Guptaji that I would go with him, I also gave him an assurance that he will be able to meet with his people if they were indeed admitted in the facility.

I had total confidence in my newfound people-engagement abilities learned from Dale Carnegie’s book and a few successful experiments under my belt. 

Guptaji had no confidence in me, but decided he had nothing to lose.  After all, I was going to take him along on my motorcycle so the gas was also on me.  The gas and time were a small cost for another experiment, but I didn’t tell him that.

Along we went to the facility and stood in line.  There were about ten people ahead of us.  Some wanted to make inquiries and some wanted to get admissions.

While waiting in line, I was observing the environment.  Lot of noise, some jostling in line, other clerks exchanging information and there were a bunch of huge registers.

As soon as I was face to face with the clerk (Guptaji doing his best to show that was not with me and acting as if next in line), my first statement was a very honest surprise-filled question.  I asked the clerk whether that beautiful and artistic handwriting on the register was his own. 

That one question made him swell with pride and he said of course it was.  I then told him that I was a bank manager, and in 5 years of service I had not seen a register maintained in such a methodical and pristine manner.  Now he was blushing.  I asked him if he could explain to me how he could manage this kind of volume (of admission seekers) and spend the time to maintain the register that well.  He opened up and gave me the whole nine yards.  Turns out he devised a method to keep track of dates, room numbers (including floors), number of relatives for each patient, all in that single (but huge) register.  He almost had his own database.  Needless to add, he was so proud that he would not let anyone near that register.

My next question then, had the desired response.  All I asked was if his method was good enough to pin point the room of someone who had arrived in the last month or so.

With the reputation of his register at stake, the clerk not only gave me the number, but walked us both to the second floor, to confirm that indeed that was the family that Guptaji knew.

On the way out of the facility, I spent another five minutes with the clerk, once again sincerely complimenting him on his thoroughness.

I drew a few lessons from this event:

  1. a.      Always look for something related to the other person that you can single out for surprise, praise or amazement.  As human beings, everyone is unique.  If you cannot find anything, you are not looking hard enough.
  2. b.      Once you find it, be liberal with the compliment but at the same time, be genuine.  Flattery or insincerity will be found out very soon and will be counter-productive.
  3. c.       Be prepared to listen.  Listen attentively and show genuine interest in the person and what they are trying to tell you.
  4. d.      Lastly engage the other person as a human being whose assistance you need.  Let them know that you do not consider them a duty-bound service provider to you.


Very conclusively, I realized that the same person (the clerk) displayed two entirely different behavior, each in accordance with the behavior presented to him.

It is very possible to influence others’ behavior by changing yours.

I look forward to your thoughts and experiences related to engaging people.

Image: © Dimitrii | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images



  • Beth-ann (1577 days ago) Reply

    This is lovely, and makes so much sense. It seems like a natural approach to take when dealing with others. My first realization of its effectiveness years ago was from the perspective of a norm of physics: that every action has an equal and opposite reaction --- here, the opposite not representing "contrary," but rather "reflective." I last experienced it quite vividly during the past two weeks when dealing with two different U.S. government telephone customer service representatives, When I made the first call I had been in a state of agitation due to having learned of a certain circumstance. That clearly reflected in my tone, and the outcome was only partially successful, with the call having been a model of a lack of rapport between the parties. I called back at an appointed time a week later, was calm by then, and was very careful to demonstrate my genuine respect for the person on the other end of the call, Mission accomplished, and in a fraction of the time it had taken on the prior call!

    My genuine surprise in the post above is the representation that you at one time claim to have been not social, had a short temper, were self-centered and were not mindful of the needs of others. Having worked closely with you for several years, if I were asked to choose someone with the opposite attributes, you'd have been first on my list! I love reading these posts and find them very helpful. I look forward to the next ones!

  • admin (1576 days ago) Reply

    Thanks for the kind words. As I mentioned, you saw the "after" item. The "before" one was horrendous!
    Your two different tones, attitude and even choice of words (my assumption) caused the customer service representative to exhibit two different responses. Clearly, you changed the rep's behavior by changing your own! I tell you the effect is magical. Once you recognize this and start practicing, you grow in confidence as well.

  • Pradeep (1575 days ago) Reply

    Very nice post. You have conveyed a good message of changing ones attitude by citing a real life event…I agree with you on how people react with different tones.
    I can also see that your compliment to the clerk was genuine and not just to get ur answer. Your compliment to him on your way back, which you did not have to do if your motive was to get the room number of the family that Gupataji knew.
    Keep the posts coming… It’s very useful

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