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Neuroscience of Influence: How to Get People to Do What You Want Them to Do

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If you say “Jump!”, will people say “…meh…?”

You are infectious. Yes you are. Whether you are a leader or a teammate, you can influence people.

Influence is about infecting people with your energy, your drive, vision and positivity as well as your complacence, laziness and negativity. So yes, you are infectious and you create that culture. You can cause a ripple effect in your entire organization. Even if the next person is doing his fair share of gossiping, tardiness and mediocre delivery, you can choose to do what is excellent, mindful and amazing… and hopefully influence.

But why is it, that even if you are giving it your best, some people around us misconstrue our actions? Why is it that even if we carefully structure what we say, it is still misinterpreted? Why are there people who say things badly and they are still understood? Even if they say mean things, people laugh and seem to be in sync with everyone else?

The gauge of influence is in the response of people to your communication. If I am misunderstood, misinterpreted or if I what I am saying isn’t moving people to the direction I want, what is wrong with my communication? Is it them? Or is it me?

Trust is at the core of influence. If a person trusts you, you say “Jump!”, they say “How High?” But it’s not just about being followed. It’s about being trusted.

That if you say, “Jump!”, the person knows you have integrity and you will jump with them if needed. They know that jumping is necessary because you are a person of integrity and you are not asking them to do anything that will cause them harm. They also know that you have a purpose for asking them to jump. They might not see the bigger picture now, but they trust you. They also know that you can show them how to jump. That they have seen you “jump” in the past and that your results prove that it will be good for them. Last, they know that you can help equip them with skills and capabilities to jump and that you know how to motivate them to jump—because you know them.

So how do we influence people towards good? Towards better? Towards amazing? Studies on Neuroscience have led us to understanding the brain and the social brain functions from the Limbic System, the seat of the brain that processes emotions, long-term memory, fight or flight, etc. to the temporal lobe, medial region to the pre-frontal cortex, analyzing and rationalizing relationships with people. Being able to create psychological safety, according to Google (reference below) talks about how we can create safety. It begins with these 4 imperatives.

  1. Know thyself. Know your own personal integrity. Are you able to make commitments and keep them? Are you able to do things right even when no one is watching? If you don’t have integrity, people will perceive dealing with you as unsafe.

  2. Know your highest purpose and intentions. Be able to communicate that. Even if you are giving someone a bitter pill, if they know the intention, it is received better. Have you ever told someone , “Do this.” And it has been misunderstood? But if you said, “My intention is to (help/inspire/serve/lead/guide) you better. With that intention, please do this.”. The limbic system responds to this. The limbic system instinctively computes whether to trust or mistrust. This framing, overrides the mistrust when a person doesn’t know what your intention is.

  3. Know what you can do. Know your limitations. Improve what you can. Leverage on your strengths. Know what you are good at and your own style. When you are working on with your strengths, you are happier and more fulfilled. The brain has mirror neurons that create empathy which make people feel safer with your capabilities as you are functioning with your strengths.

  4. Have proof. Proof in your results. Proof in your behavior. This is where the rubber meets the road. What’s your proof? The hippocampus stores long term memory and if you have repeatedly shown proof of your results, the limbic brain can immediately compute that you can be trusted because of past experiences. Your erratic results will make people feel unsure of your next endeavors.

Influence begins with you and only then will your behaviors be aligned. Alongside these 4 imperatives, we need to know our people and establish actions of trust. According to Wharton Neuroscience Initiative, there are behaviors we can do to establish trust. There is a science behind what we can do to be more trustworthy. If we are doing things that cause distrust, we can do things that can cause trust.

This is not about manipulation to get people to do what you want because people feel it. People know. Our is brain is trained to get cues from the behaviors of others for us to identify if this person is a threat or a reward. Going back to the intention, people will know. The brain is a lot smarter than we realize. Get people to do what you want. But what you want should have their good in mind. Because, again, they will know.

If you are able to influence decisions, persuade people, inspire, lead people better and move people towards better, how much easier would our jobs and lives be?

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