The Influence of Influence

Steven Barnes
7 min readFeb 25, 2019

It is often noted that the discourse on my pages tends to be polite, and a few times a week I get inquiries about why this is true. It is very simple: tone flows down from the top. If the top is organized, things may unravel as you get closer to the bottom, but its hugely better than if the top is scattered. In this particular instance, then, it is simple: I strive to be courteous, and I demand courtesy from the guests on my page. I will cometimes allow two combative guests to square off and go at it, but ONLY if they seem to both be enjoying it.

And even there, if the name calling gets to a certain level, I’ll call an end to it. Why? Because I’ve never seen anything positive happen once the slurs begin. As long as people are talking, even heatedly, exchanging ideas, there is the possibility of growth and change. I believe in communication, even when it is intense.

But I insist that my pages be a safe space for all my guests. The most consistent reasons I’ve ever blocked people is because they would not be polite, NOT for their attitudes or politics. I have actual racists among my FB friends, and many who “aren’t sure” what they think (IMO code for: “yes, I’m racist, but lack the clarity/courage to admit it out loud.”)

That’s o.k. Doesn’t make them bad people. But I don’t let them talk about race on my threads. Why? Because I have people who have been genuinely traumatized, who are carrying emotional scars and real fear from living in a world where they are diminished because of the color of their skin, especially by people who then claim nothing has happened. They will NOT have to deal with that in my space. About half the people who have been blocked were people who refused to accept this ban. Again, rude.

My house. My rules. I like to be a good host.








So back to Brendon Burchard’s “Peak Performance” method, which I’m going to explore this year. I really do love diving deep into one approach, and then another, for a long enough period of time to get real immersion and integrate the good parts into my “unconscious competence”

Today…Influence. This is team building, and critical. According to Napoleon Hill, the “Grandfather” of all modern self-help, the only known way to compensate for a lack of ability is the “Master Mind” — the gathering of people of different skills and inclinations to create a larger more powerful whole. With a company, this will include employees: you don’t want drones who all do the same things. You want people with complementary capacities, so that together you can accomplish more than you can individually.

And the ability to “model” success is so critical to life. I would go as far as to say that whatever I’ve accomplished in life, a majority of those positive results have come from studying the lives, attitudes, behaviors, and strategies of successful people. 80% studying success, 20% looking at failures. The difference between their clustered attitudes gives a very clear map of what to do, and what to avoid.

The ability to attract and hold those employees, or get close enough to a role model to really see what’s cookin’ in the kitchen, is to build rapport with them…INFLUENCE. When I wanted to boost my career, I sought out professional writers and interacted with them until I found one who would let me close enough to actually see how they did what they did. Larry Niven was the one who let me close enough to really dive deep. Now, this was a man of massive achievement, smarter than me, richer than me, more skilled then me.

What in the world could I offer him to get close enough to really understand what he was doing?

Honesty. Energy. Love.

I was as open and clear as I could be, as positive and energetic as I couid be. Offered genuine affection, admiration, and friendship. “How can I make his life better?” I asked myself. “How can I ensure that EVERY time he sees me, he feels better than before I arrived?” I was transparent: I had no hidden agendas, everything out front.

“Hello Mr. Niven,” I said to him that first day. “My name is Steven Barnes, and I’m a writer.”

“All right,” he said to me, puffing on his pipe. “Tell me a story.”

And because I had just submitted a story about a compulsive gambler who hocks his pacemaker (!) I was able to stutter out a synopsis of the story, while he nodded and smiled. I found out later that from the way I’d come on, I had about thirty seconds to prove I wasn’t an asshole.

Because I’d done my homework, because I was polite and low-key, because I spoke to him of an arena of shared interest, because I was honestly on the same road he was on, EVEN IF HORIZONS BEHIND HIM…

We developed rapport. Influence. And the rest is history.


With customers, “influence” can also be considered “rapport” — they need to trust you. “Customers don’t care what you know until they know that you care.” If your customers feel that you are genuinely interested in their lives and dreams, they begin to lower their guard. It seems to me that developing influence then demands a combination of the other five characteristics. Let’s see how:

  1. Clarity. People follow a leader. We crave direction. The person with greatest clarity will have the greatest influence, all other things being equal. Where are we going? What will we accomplish? I am confused…do YOU know what you are doing? The beautiful thing about this is that people have greater or lesser clarity in different aspects of life. Everyone can lead, everyone can follow. It all depends on the arena.
  2. Energy. Another addictive quality. Sexy as hell. I’m not attracted to obesity. But I’ve been VERY attracted to some ladies who could stand to lose some weight. Their energy and confidence compensated for the extra tissue. I could see that on the level of attitude, we shared the same values. That opened the door to the possibility of bonding, at least on the level of fun. Being around someone with high or “cultivated” energy allows you to vibrate to their frequency, like two tuning forks. A wonderful experience.
  3. Necessity. We are attracted to people who have a sense of urgency. Moving at a faster pace. It can be exhausting if that vibration is TOO much higher than your own…but if it is maybe 10–20% higher? You get swept up in it. It is hypnotic.
  4. Productivity. We love people who get a lot done, as long as it is high-quality work. Some people make the mistake of thinking production alone is sufficient. No, it doesn’t matter how many arrows you fire if you miss the target. (BTW….something I’ve never seen in a Western is a “fast draw” expert who was faster than the hero…but less accurate. That would be SO much fun!) So if you get a lot done, AND you are good and especially if you are improving…wow. When you can SEE someone improve in real time? Astounding. But I often hear people argue that the loser of a boxing match was actually the winner, just because they threw more punches…until someone points out that those punches missed, or lacked power.
  5. Courage. Again, we want a leader with courage. We all have fear, and those fears limit our perceived options. A person who exhibits physical or moral courage inspires us to move beyond those limits. We understand on some level that we cheat ourselves by letting fear of rejection, loneliness, or even death stop us from expressing our true selves. The courageous can seem almost insane in comparison to the risk-averse.

I met Rick Avery, a professional stunt man last night. Used to double for John Travolta. And we spoke of those who make a profession of doing things most people run away from. “Maybe it’s crazy” he laughed.

I shook my head. “A teacher once told me that any culture that doesn’t produce a sufficient number of those wild, crazy Bad Boys will get wiped out by the cultures that do.” The “risk gene” is a valuable thing. But then he got sober. “I wish people could see how carefully and soberly we prepare for those gags” he said. Stuntmen were not risk-averse…but they weren’t crazy either.

I wanted to ask him about falling down the stairs. I’d just watched “Casino Royale” and there is an epic fistfight on a stairway (ending in one of only two times Bond has ever killed someone with his bare hands) and a scene where a guy is thrown down the stairs. I mean DAMN…how the heck do you make THAT safe?

I saw the little smile on Rick’s face. “You sort of just do it,” he said. “And hope you don’t have to do more than three takes.”

Ouch. What was it John Wayne’s John Booker says to Ron Howard in “The Shootist”? Being a gunfighter isn’t about being a good shot. Its being a good shot when someone is shooting back. What is the secret? “You’ve got to be willing. Most ain’t.”

Or as Worf once said, “perhaps today IS a good day to die.” Courage is valuing an objective higher than the risk of consequences. Honor or contribution or growth above risk to life, limb, or social standing. We all have fear. Heroes do what must be done in spite of it. That “tonight we dine in hell!” attitude that powers legends for three thousand years after our deaths.

O.K. Enough about that. Clearly, Influence is a valid part of a web of qualities, NONE of which are particularly limited by innate capacity. All of them can be increased by will and action. And all contribute to success.

Good stuff.



(and lurking in the background, you’ll find these six principles applied to the art of mating. Still time to join the discussion at:



Steven Barnes

Steven Barnes is a NY Times bestselling author, ecstatic husband and father, and holder of black belts in three martial arts.