How to Win People Over

  • March 07, 2020
  • Tisha Parker Kemp, MEd, CTPD, CPM

How to Win People Over

How you present yourself matters. As professionals, we pride ourselves on our legal and industry knowledge and our business acumen. However, conveying this expertise to clearly communicate complex ideas, negotiate and move items forward with actionable outcomes, and influence strategic decisions can be challenging.

Our level of confidence and comfort with others directly affects the degree to which we can influence them. It matters how we respond to questions in a meeting, how we engage in difficult conversations and even how we enter a room. Whether our audience is one or many, a growth mindset, a confident (and self-aware) approach and positive body language are paramount to success.

Cultivate a Growth Mindset

As Carol Dweck wrote in her acclaimed book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, if someone with a fixed mindset fails or isn’t the best at something, they often view it as a waste of time, whereas someone with a growth mindset would view it as an opportunity to chart a new course.

High achievers, such as lawyers, often rise to the top of their profession because they find meaning in their work, and they value their and others’ efforts based on outcomes they achieve, rather than focusing on being right or “winning.” Simply put, they have a growth mindset. When they hit a roadblock, they don’t give up. When they encounter a difficult matter, they work toward a resolution. They put in the effort. They persevere.

Your leadership team trusts that you will direct them effectively through negotiations, resolve legal matters in a timely manner and act with a view toward the organization’s overall success. They believe that you will steer them well and you will figure it out when tough situations arise.

When things don’t go according to plan, remember to focus on the lessons learned and opportunities for improvement. Take stock of what could be done differently or better for next time. Then move on. Hindsight can be illuminating but focusing steadfastly on the rear-view mirror is a dangerously limiting perspective. Effort, agility and improving the process lead to stronger relationships and greater buy-in in the future. Presenting yourself as an expert who solves problems and learns from setbacks will translate into a more collaborative approach within your organization and beyond.

Conquer Your Inner Dialogue

You step into a new organization or are faced with a complex issue. You are excited, nervous, ready to perform—but your inner voice keeps telling you that you’re not ready and may not even be qualified, even though you have the skills and track record to prove otherwise. And so begins the internal dialogue between the pesky little devil on one shoulder snorting about your inadequacies and the brave little angel on the other whispering “you’ve got this” in your ear.

These innermost conversations are not uncommon when professionals in any industry take on high levels of responsibility. And perhaps, as in-house counsel, being the legal expert for the entire organization weighs heavy, which can create towering pressure to perform flawlessly. Anxiety and stress can cloud clear thoughts. Cortisol, our “fight or flight” stress hormone, elevates, pulling much needed blood flow away from our brain. Your mind can go blank, your mouth may go dry, and you risk appearing nervous and unprepared.

At times like these, remember you are a lawyer. You are trained and practiced on how to solve problems. You are experienced with policy compliance, enforcement and convincing others of the most appropriate course of action to resolve sensitive matters. You were hired because of the wealth of knowledge and experience you bring.

Before heading into an important meeting or discussion, set yourself up for confidence and clarity of mind. Find a quiet space to prepare yourself physically and mentally. Stretch your limbs and swing your arms to increase the blood flow. Doing so increases the amount of oxygen reaching your brain, reducing cortisol and lightening the cognitive load. Visualize the successful outcomes about to take place. If this seems silly, know that elite athletes practice these rituals just before they perform because they work.

Remember that it is not about you. Your audience is awaiting your commentary, not judging your abilities. Also take comfort in the fact that the higher the levels of prominence and success you achieve, the more confident and capable on your feet you will become. Practice makes perfect. Experience will also teach you to be more self-aware and know when you don’t have the answer—yet. Responding with “I want to investigate further before I make any recommendation” creates the space for you to research the issue and enhances your trustworthiness and willingness to do what it takes to get the job done.

Master Body Language

First impressions of our physicality can send formidable messages. We’re not talking about having the physique of an elite athlete here; rather, we’re looking at how we greet someone at a networking event or how we begin a meeting. These initial encounters can make or break our ability to influence others.

Imagine entering a board room for a tough real estate negotiation and seated at the opposite side of the table from the entrance is your perceived adversary, a developer known for hard-nosed tactics. They smile enthusiastically and stand up to greet you by your first name as they step out from behind the table. They walk up to you with shoulders broad and arms stretched at waist level with palms visible and envelope your grasp warmly between both of their hands, and then gesture for you to take a seat at one of the empty chairs. As you sit, this person does as well, only this time on your side of the table, rather than returning to the opposite side.

Their non-verbal communication results in a palpable disarming of any tensions you may have felt prior to entering the room. Their energy and artful gestures have, in effect, put you at ease. The subtle cordiality with which they presented themselves in this brief interaction has influenced your perception of the fairness of the negotiations.

Our ability to influence others with our body language and non-verbal cues has been researched by psychologists and business gurus for decades. And while cultural milieus can alter our perceptions, there are universal elements that can set us up for positively influencing others’ perceptions of us. Our real estate developer exhibits these quite effectively. Approaching someone with an open and fully visible body, rather than staying behind a table, desk, podium or other obstacle, sends the message that you have little to hide. Displaying the palms of your hands subconsciously tells others you are welcoming and credible. Greeting others with a sincere smile lets them know you are interested in a cooperative interaction and mutually beneficial outcome. And, if possible, your position in an adjacent, rather than opposing, chair further amplifies your openness and trustworthiness. Subliminal or overt, these mannerisms have similar upshots.

At times, you, as in-house counsel, may feel like an elite athlete guiding and coaching your team to victory—and that is great. By maintaining a growth mindset when faced with challenge, taking measures to remain clear-headed and focused on your audiences’ needs, and leveraging persuasive body language, you increase your influence and foster collaboration among your audiences, elevating your chances of a win-win outcome. And isn’t that the ultimate goal?

Tisha Parker Kemp, MEd, CTPD, CPM, is a talent development executive and adult education professional with over 20 years’ experience in the end-to-end management of training programs, including 17 years in the online learning space. As Founder of shiftED Academy Inc., a training and consulting organization, she believes that having good presentation skills is the secret to pay increases, promotions and powerful career shifts, so she helps people rock the podium, even if the podium hasn’t found them yet. Reach her at