How to get clout (and get your way)

BY Joyce Brothers

14th Jan 2024 Life

5 min read

How to get clout (and get your way)
The secret to getting clout isn't just for tough bosses or wily politicians any more—it's about treating people well so they come round to your way of thinking
One of the most powerful female executives in America can't reach the President by phone or cause ripples on Wall Street with a press conference. But make no mistake, Dorothy Roberts, chief executive of a scarf-making company, has clout.
Her secret: she treats employees like something more than employees.
Dorothy Roberts's staff numbers 100-plus, yet she rings each one on his or her birthday. When a colleague had cancer, she visited him in hospital and continued sending his full salary for nearly four months, rather than putting him on sick pay. When another employee was going through a messy divorce, Dorothy gave her the summer off.
In other words, she makes her employees feel like part of the family.
"Power is much softer today"
In return, she gets loyalty. "I've seen people here work round the clock to get out orders and do the job well," says Charles Williams, joint head of the company.
Dorothy Roberts proves a point: increasingly, clout belongs to people who treat others well. To achieve it, you must create and maintain positive relationships.
In the past, clout belonged to wily politicians and overbearing bosses. Fortunately, that's no longer true, says Bob Dilenschneider, head of a public-relations firm: "Power is much softer today. To get clout, you don't shout at people, you don't criticise them openly, and you don't use fear. You inform them and try to get them to endorse your ideas."
True clout, then, is available to us all—which is fortunate, because everyone needs it. Only with clout can we make a difference in our places of work, our communities, even our families.
Here's how to get clout:

Behave "as if…"

Older woman with clout in neighbourhood
Psychologist William James developed a theory he called his "as if" principle. "If you want a quality, behave as if you already have it," he used to say. His point? The ability to influence others, or wield clout, is a state of mind.
That's what Jean Stryjewski discovered. From the time that Jean, a doting grandmother and chairwoman of her local residents' association in Washington DC, moved into council housing seven years ago, she worried about the safety of the children straying from the complex's tiny unfenced garden into its busy car park.
When a three-year-old boy was struck by a car one summer day in 1990, Jean and her neighbours complained to the authorities, but no fences appeared.
"If you project confidence, then you have clout"
The accident coincided with the council election campaign, so Jean began a campaign of her own. "Every time candidates went out canvassing," she recalls, "I was there to look them in the eye and say, 'When you get elected, I need my fences.'"
When the election was over, Jean's relentless crusade paid off. The council installed four-foot fences around her building, and now children can play safely.
"I knew I'd get those fences eventually," says Jean. Her spearheading of a neighbourhood campaign forced local politicians to respond. "If you project confidence, then you have clout," says William Ury, director of Harvard Law School's Negotiation Network.

Take time out

Many people assume that the one who shouts loudest will emerge the victor. In fact, bullying rarely works.
"When you're angry, you communicate in an ineffective way," says Ury. "A boss who screams at subordinates may get temporary results, but in the long run his employees will lose respect for him."
Television chef Anton Mosimann knows only too well from the temperamental world of haute cuisine that coercion is unproductive.
Once, while head chef at London's Dorchester Hotel, he wanted his 63-year- old chef saucier to make way for new talent by moving to breakfast chef—which might be seen as a demotion.
So he asked the sauce chef if he would like to make the move, which would offer the same salary but leave evenings free to spend with his family. The man readily accepted.
"You'll gain the respect of others for your emotional maturity"
"The key to good food is a happy kitchen," says Mosimann. "If your staff know they have your trust and respect they will give you their best."
Whenever the challenge to keep your cool seems insurmountable, try this "time out" technique suggested by Ury.
"Tell those you are meeting that you have to make a phone call and leave the room for a few minutes," he suggests. "Then concentrate on your goals. Ask yourself what you really want to accomplish."
By giving yourself a respite, you should be able to regain composure and reapproach your problem rationally and constructively. Then, like Mosimann, you'll gain the respect of others for your emotional maturity.

Listen carefully

Steven Spielberg
An old Hindu proverb says, "Help your brother's boat across and behold—your own has reached the shore."
To gain clout, you must always pay close attention so that you can learn what others truly want.
When Steven Spielberg, director of ET, Jurassic Park and other film classics, was a skinny 13-year-old making films at home and at school, he was tormented for months by the class bully.
"This was somebody I feared," wrote Spielberg. "He was my nemesis. I dreamed about him."
Young Steven decided that since he couldn't beat the bully, he should join him. "So I said to him, 'I'm making a movie about fighting the Nazis, and I want you to play this war hero.' At first he laughed in my face, but later he said yes. I made him the squad leader in the film, with helmet, fatigues and backpack. After that he became my best friend."
"All effective communication starts with listening"
Spielberg recognised that what the bully really wanted was to be accepted by his classmates. Spielberg, the self-described "skinny wimp", now had an older, stronger ally and, as a result, gained stature, or clout, among his teenage peers.
How did he establish the calm rapport necessary for empathising? By keeping his ears open. "All effective communication starts with listening," says Bonnie Jacobson, director of the New York Institute for Psychological Change.
When others aren't forthcoming, try saying, "Is this what you mean?" and then repeat what they've just said—or what you suspect they feel. The fact that you want to comprehend their position fully will help to establish trust.

Let everybody win

True masters of clout follow the dictum of the Italian diplomat Daniele Vare, who said, "Diplomacy is the art of letting someone have your way."
Explains Ury, "Instead of pushing the other side towards an agreement, draw them in the direction you want them to move."
When Dorothy Brunson started her TV station WGTW in Philadelphia in 1990, she had to scramble to persuade advertisers to buy commercial time. She landed one of her early sponsors, a department store, by projecting good ratings by a certain deadline.
When the station failed to attract the number of viewers forecast, the client threatened to pull out. Dorothy persuaded the store to extend its con- tract by another 90 days in exchange for a ten per cent reduction in advertising costs.
It was a perfect win-win solution. Dorothy kept the account, and the client's cheap ads reached more viewers.

Have an ace up your sleeve

Imagine that your 15-year-old daughter is going out on her first date. You fear she might deliberately ignore her 11pm curfew. If she disobeys you, losing your temper will only escalate the conflict; yet, if you say nothing now, you'll fail to provide proper guidance.
Neither option offers you clout. But if you get her boyfriend's phone number, and let her know that if she hasn't arrived home by 11.15, you're going to call his mother, you've set up an appropriate fall-back plan.
With this in place, your daughter knows that disobedience will result in embarrassment.
"Clout comes most essentially from having a back-up plan," says William Ury. It greatly increases your ability to persuade.

Do something surprising

Richard Branson
No matter how sensitive your tactics, there will always be someone—a difficult boss, an insecure spouse, a jealous colleague—who will try to undermine your clout. When this happens, your only option may be to surprise him.
Richard Branson's frank and unpredictable style has often taken people by surprise. In 1992 profits of Virgin Atlantic Airways were tight and the staff had to forgo their Christmas bonus—but Branson was aware of the harm that this could do.
As he said in a speech to the Institute of Directors: "We know that high standards of service depend upon a happy staff, who are proud of the company they work for. That is why the interests of our people must come first."
So when, on January 11 1993, Branson won £610,000 damages from British Airways in a libel case, the first thing he did was to divide up the money among his 3,000 airline employees.
Branson's generosity proved that his concern for his employees was not just talk. And he was following the most important tenet for getting clout—he was cementing relationships. In getting clout, no other single tactic can take its place.
This article is part of our archival collection and was originally published in July 1994. While we strive to present historical content accurately, please note that circumstances and information may have changed since the article's original publication. Some individuals mentioned in the article may no longer be alive, and events or details may have evolved. We encourage readers to consider the context of the original publication and to verify any current information independently
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