I actually read this book quite a while ago but never got around to writing about it. And when I did, I could only remember one concept in the book, so I think that’s probably the main concept. I’m not sure one would need to read the book to get their head around the concept either… 

Compelling People by John Neffinger and Matthew Kohut

So what is the book about? Written back in 2013, it claims to be about being more influential and beings with saying that being influential is not necessarily something people are born with and that it is something that can be learned. Ok, so far, makes sense, mostly. And what are the secret ingredients that make up the big idea? 

“It turns out that when we decide how we feel about someone, we are making not one judgement, but two. The criteria that count are what we call ’strength’ and ‘warmth’. Strength is a person’s capacity to make things happen with abilities and force of will. When people project strength, they command our respect. Warmth is the sense that a person shares our feelings, interests, and view of the world. When people project warmth, we like and support them.”

That’s pretty much it, in a nutshell – too much strength creates fear and distrust, and too much warmth makes one look weak. So it’s a balancing act. And while I appreciate it’s scientifically backed and endorsed by lots of academic people, I can’t quite help feeling that it’s a little obvious. Then on to some other things that are probably quite obvious, stereotyping like men are perceived to have more strength, women more warmth but that having a good mix of the two gives you that influential edge in business. The book goes on to give examples in many different areas, such as language, gestures (talks about mirroring), humour, gait, clothes, hair and so on. If you’re interested in that kind of thing I recommend the much more insightful ’The Definitive Book of Body Language’ by Allan and Barbara Pease, which I read a long time ago but still echoes around my grey matter even today. Compelling People also comments on gender differences, sexual orientation and other factors which, frankly, mean it is not ageing well. 

Whilst I agree with what the bulk of the book says, again I find a lot of it quite obvious and I don’t feel it gives a lot of help and advice, or practical examples of what to work on on an individual level. It’s likely everyone is different but just telling someone they need to exhibit strength and warmth simultaneously is not that insightful. 

The passage I did find more useful was one called The Circle – the theory that it’s easier to persuade people from inside their personal safety circle. They use Robert Kennedy’s powerful speech in Indianapolis that he gave on hearing the news of Matin Luther King’s death in 1968. In which the writers call out three steps that he took to build rapport with the public.

  1. Acknowledge – you have to acknowledge the circle of the other person. You have to acknowledge what they are and what they feel right now.
  2. Empathise – Kennedy then identifies directly with the people he’s addressing, referencing his own family murders at the hands of white men. Showing that he had a shared experience, he put himself further inside the circle with them. Seeing and feeling what they see and feel- connecting with warmth. It’s this empathy coupled with genuine humility that then allow us to authentically take on the third step.
  3. Lead – Once the foundational steps have been laid, then Kennedy was in the place to lead – to put forward notions of reform, what needed to change and his vision for the future.

Aside from a couple of the central theories in the book, I didn’t find it to be that helpful in terms of telling me anything I already knew (and what I believe to be quite widely know) nor did I find it a particularly enjoyable read. Not one I recommend as there are much better alternatives out there.