Just like a lever, the right piece of information can result in large changes. Leverage in a social context refers to the the ability to use power to extract the results you want. For example, if you are a parent and you know your child likes candy, you can leverage candy to get them to behave. If they behave they get it if they don’t behave they lose out on the candy.
Having leverage can be extremely useful in any situation, so we are going to cover how to instantly develop leverage, and how to develop it in the long run.
The main key to social leverage in any situation is knowing what the person wants and doesn’t want. If you know these things, you can use the carrot and stick technique to get them to behave the way you want. For example, a customer knows the customer service representative wants to avoid complaints and to increase positive reviews. The customer can offer a positive review and minimize yelling to incentivize the representative.
Think about the things you can do in a situation to make the person’s life more difficult. Think about the things that they might want that don’t happen very often. Tactfully mention ways either event could happen depending on their behavior.
The best way to point out that you have leverage is to use questions. For example, “what is the process for handling in store customer complaints?” You can also use stories of past events to illustrate a point indirectly. “I had a friend once who kept threatening this really nice person, one day the friend ended up in the hospital from falling down the stairs.” Finally, you can just outright state that you have leverage. “I have two other offers and I was wondering how much you value my skills.”
Leverage can be developed in the short term, quickly. This can be done by complimenting people, insulting them, complaining or filing reports, being difficult, being helpful, refusing to negotiate, being persuasive, sharing certain pieces of information, withholding information, discovering secrets, having many options, and much more. Look for ways to give people gifts that have a recurring aspect to them so you can take them away if they don’t behave.
Leverage in the long term is generally developed by being consistent, reliable, skilled, not running your mouth, and doing what you say you will do. Don’t underestimate being predictable. If you always insult people back when they insult you, your predictability will affect other people’s behavior. If you always arrive early to work, people will start expecting you to be there early. Consistent behavior leads to trust, which leads to power. But consistent behavior can also lead people to feel entitled. Think about the direct and indirect affects of your actions on your long term leverage.
There are three main ways to build leverage at work. First and foremost, leverage at work is dependent on how good you are at your job. Work on your skills. Learn how the company works. Be better than everyone else at what you do. Be reliable and consistent. Don’t be naive though. Sometimes it appears like your job is answering the phone, typing, or dealing with customers. But often your real job is more simple. Keep your boss happy.
The second way leverage is built at work is by placing yourself in the choke point of important systems. This gives you information power. If the company relies on you to be the only data analyst, all of a sudden you can use this information to get other things you want. Most simply you can get raises if you are the only one who understands an important system. But you can also get favors from other departments for simply giving them the information before others. Sales reps use information power as leverage to break into new sales situations. They often offer to give company purchasers information in order to “keep their current provider competitive.” This gets them in the door and able to talk to the key decision making individual and build more leverage. Think about what your company or your prospective company might need and how you can make yourself the only way of getting it.
The final way for building leverage at work that we will cover here is called extortion. No we don’t mean extortion in the legal sense. We mean simply being willing to keep your mouth closed unless people do what you want. We mean negotiating using the leverage you have in order to get power. Stop running your mouth just to be nice or helpful. Be tactful and ask yourself what you are getting for the information you have. Learn your weaknesses and don’t give information to someone just because they stroked your ego. Learn to identify what you want and be willing to hold out for it.
In Social Situations
You can develop leverage in social situations in at least two ways. First, learn to help and hurt people’s identity. The ability to make things happen socially is often dependent on flattery and humiliation. If you can stroke someone’s narcissism at the right time and in the right crowd, they will often repay you many times over.
Consider also hunting for leverage by gathering information about who dislikes who and why. A negative quote from someone about another individual can be quite useful. For example, in the show Succession, one character goes around asking “how long do you think it will last,” at a wedding. If the person starts saying negative things, she gathers leverage. If they say positive things, she says “I for one think it will last forever.” You don’t have to be machiavelian to get useful information. Simply try asking people simple information. People love to be heard.
You can also give people conditional gifts. This can be introducing someone to a person in your network, or it could be inviting them to a useful networking event. Try to make the gift recurring so you can leverage it better.