3 Principles to Influence People

Alan Cameron-Sweeney

What Does It Take to Influence People?

What was I thinking?

I was 14 years old, cycling by a girl I liked.

She was standing outside the football club with her friends. I didn’t even expect her to notice me.

But she did. 

“Hey Alan,” she said sweetly as I passed.

And what did I do?

I stared straight ahead and said “Hi” while whizzing by her.

She laughed, and I started pedalling as fast as I could - as if I could outrun my embarrassment. 

Did I really think that would get her to like me?

I didn’t slow down. I didn’t make eye contact. Nothing.

She said hi to me! That was my opportunity and I blew it.

I Still Had a Lot to Learn

Years later, I’m out of school and working in an office.

But in a lot of ways, I was still the same kid on the bike, missing his chance at making connections.

Asking about people’s families? What a waste of time.

Better to spend those precious minutes finessing Excel spreadsheets.

Now that’s productivity!

I know. It pains me to look back at those moments, too.

I thought I knew a lot about finance. But I knew next to nothing about rapport.

Like how I once told a stakeholder they were wrong in a very sternly written email.

No wiggle room. No “maybe” or “perhaps.” Simply and bluntly, “you’re wrong.”

Only, they weren’t wrong. I was. And my accusation made me look a bit stupid.

My boss told me not to send emails like that anymore.

I only wish he could have stopped me before.

The Transformation Project That Transformed Me

Eventually, I got a job in a Finance Transformation project.

As an accountant and programmer, I was a natural fit. I knew a lot about Finance and IT.

But I didn’t need to do programming. We had a team of external tech guys for that.

No, I was supposed to work with stakeholders.

Which is… not what I did.

Instead, I sat in a dark room and coded away like the introverted gremlin I was. No eye contact needed.

What about the stakeholders? What was I going to do about them?

Well, there’s a saying that goes, “When the man is ready, the mentor appears”

In my case, that mentor was Dale Carnegie.

His book How to Win Friends and Influence People gave me three principles I needed in order to have influence with those stakeholders. Principles that I still try to live by.

The First Principle of Influence: The Sweetest Sound

"Remember that a person's name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language." - Dale Carnegie

I like to use people’s names when I greet them.

And again when I’m exiting a conversation.

When I get great customer service, I make it a point to look for a name tag.

When somebody I don’t know calls me, I make sure to learn their name so I can use it at the end of the call.

Using their name at the end is very impactful. It’s a small gesture, but people always notice when you make an effort. 

The Second Principle of Influence: Ask Deeper Questions

“To be interesting is to be interested.” - Max Walker

Dale Carnegie talks about this too - Max Walker just has a better quote!

As an introvert, this is a superpower. I can make myself interesting without using energy. Plus, it saves me from the awkward idle chat about the weather.

This works because everyone loves to talk about themselves. Even more if somebody is happy to listen.

Being interested is all about asking the right questions.

You ask someone, “What did you do for the weekend?” They answer that they went golfing.

How do you reply?

Most people will follow up with “How did it go?”

Then they’ll get a short and closed response like “Not too bad.”

Why? Because people assume you’re just asking to be polite. They don’t want to bore you!

Instead, try asking a deeper question. Something like, “What is it you like about golf?”

See the difference? You’re not just making conversation - you’re signalling genuine interest.

You’re giving them the floor to express their passion. You’re allowing them to geek out about golf. 

They’ll have a great time telling you all about it. They’ll walk away pleased and will remember you as an interesting person.

Even if you didn’t really do much more than listen to them. 

The Third Principle of Influence: Eye Contact

That girl I whizzed by on my bike? That wasn’t the last time I struggled with eye contact.

My wife still laughs at how little my eyes met with hers on our first date.

Somehow, it didn’t hinder my chances - with either of them. Although it could’ve saved me some awkward teenage embarrassment - and there was plenty of that to go around.

Stakeholders aren’t always so forgiving.

Eye contact is important to them. It shows genuine interest and it’s a sign of a good listener.

Pair that with deeper questions and they’ll know you’re interested in their response.

But don’t overdo it. There’s a difference between making eye contact and staring.

The rule of thumb is 50% when speaking and 70% when listening. Though 70% sounds like a lot - you don’t want them to feel like you’re gazing into their soul when they’re asking about the latest financial report!

So, make eye contact but break it up as well. A natural way to do that is to look away when nodding or using active listening gestures.

The Best $20 You’ll Ever Spend

There aren’t many $20 investments that will change your life.

But How to Win Friends and Influence People will.

Because influence is how you become more successful in Finance. And that book holds the key to influence.

If you haven’t read it, get a copy now. It changed my life. I’m sure it will do the same for you.

- Alan “Eye Contact” Cameron-Sweeney

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