Influencing Ourselves and Others: How Our Words Shape Our World

Ever stop to think about how a simple greeting can reveal so much? I found myself thinking about this during a casual exchange at my local cigar shop, a place you’ll often find me working these days. A regular strolled in, and our conversation kicked off with the typical, “How are you doing?” His response, “Not too bad,” sparked more than just small talk—it became the inspiration for this article.

That phrase, “Not too bad,” is intriguing, isn’t it? It sets “bad” as the norm, suggesting that anything a little better than bad is good enough. Most of us interpret it as “I’m okay,” even when things might be going great. This got me thinking about how our words influence each of us individually and, by extension, on those around us.

Focused Attention

Our brains have limited attention and always highlight the subject of our focus. This reminds me of an episode of television show Frasier, where Frasier and his bother Niles decided to learn how to ride bike. Frasier kept colliding with objects because he wouldn’t take his eyes off them. He thought that would help him steer clear but ironically, he ended up exactly where he didn’t want to be. This mirrors a crucial brain function: focusing on the object of our “don’ts” often drives us right into them.

Consider golfers. Instead of focusing on avoiding the water hazard, low handicap golfers visualize the ball landing in the fairway. Poor golfers often pull out a “water ball,” one they don’t mind losing, and their thought, “Don’t go in the water,” more often than not, sees the ball making a splash. It’s a clear illustration: what you dwell on sets yourself up for the focus of your attention.

The Influence Effect

My former boss, John Petrucci, understood this well. Ask him how he was, and you’d get a “Peachy keen!” or “Unbelievable!” His sunny outlook wasn’t just for show; it rubbed off on everyone around him. I recall a long-time, somewhat gruff colleague, who started echoing John’s “Hunky dory.” John admitted that even on bad days, opting for a positive “Unbelievable!” (he might have been doing unbelievably bad) could still be a positive influence on others.

It’s not about faking it; it’s about choosing the brighter side of things when possible. This approach isn’t just for leaders or sales professionals; it’s a universal tool in our everyday interactions, especially vital in today’s divided and tense societal climate.

Bettering Ourselves and Others

As someone deeply invested in the art of influence, I’ve observed the profound effect our choice of words can have—not just on our psyche but on the ambiance of our interactions. John’s lesson was clear: looking on the bright side was a powerful form of positive influence for him and others.

In our quests to better ourselves and influence people, the words we select are our building blocks. Let’s challenge ourselves to pick words that create a positive influence. Next time you’re asked how you’re doing, consider the ripple effect your answer might have. Opting for positivity could be your contribution to a brighter world.

I invite you to reflect on the good times, even the “not too bad” ones, and share how choosing positivity has influenced your life and those around you.

Edited with ChatGPT

Brian Ahearn

Brian Ahearn is the Chief Influence Officer at Influence PEOPLE and a faculty member at the Cialdini Institute. An author, TEDx speaker, international trainer, coach, and consultant, Brian helps clients apply influence in everyday situations to boost results.

As one of only a dozen Cialdini Method Certified Trainers in the world, Brian was personally trained and endorsed by Robert Cialdini, Ph.D., the most cited living social psychologist on the science of ethical influence.

Brian’s first book, Influence PEOPLE, was named one of the 100 Best Influence Books of All Time by Book Authority. His follow-up, Persuasive Selling for Relationship Driven Insurance Agents, was an Amazon new release bestseller. His latest book, The Influencer: Secrets to Success and Happiness, is a business parable designed to teach you how to use influence at home and the office.

Brian’s LinkedIn courses on persuasive selling and coaching have been viewed by more than 700,000 people around the world. His TEDx Talk on pre-suasion has more than a million views!

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