Book Review: Real Influence


I find that I am frequently referring to the book Real Influence: Persuade without Pushing and Gain without Giving In by Dr. Mark Goulston and Dr. John Ullmen.  I thought it might be of value to you to provide a review of the book since it has had such a strong positive impact on me.

In an age when persuasion techniques are often spotted a mile away, we find that traditional forms of influence are no longer effective; the authors call this “disconnected influence.”  They present a contrasting model they term “connected influence,” a method of building relationships that can lead to long lasting influence.

Dr. Goulston is a business psychiatrist and consultant who specializes in communication skills, while Dr. Ullmen is an executive coach and business professor at the UCLA Anderson School of Management.  Together, they bring considerable expertise and experience to their topic.


The book is divided into seven sections:

  • Section 1 – The Problem: Why Are You Struggling to Influence People? – covers the problems associated with disconnected influence, addresses the elements of human nature that keep us using a method of influence that is often counterproductive, and introduces the concept of connected influence.
  • Sections 2-5 explain and illustrate each of the four steps of connected influence in detail – Go for Great Outcomes, Listen Past Your Blind Spot, Engage Them in “Their There,” and When You’ve Done Enough … Do More.
  • Section 6 – Taking Real Influence to the Next Level – explores the role of connected influence in difficult circumstances.
  • Section 7 – Putting It All Together – provides four in-depth case studies of connected influence in action.

Each chapter is full of real-life examples from the extensive interviews Drs. Goulston and Ullmen conducted as well as illustrations from their own lives.  They do an excellent job of making a very abstract topic concrete and relatable.  Additionally, each chapter, with the exception of those in Section 1, ends with useable insights and actions steps, empowering the reader to immediately begin implementing the principle in that chapter.


In the last year, I have read all or part of several books on leadership, communication, negotiations, and influence.  This has been one of the easiest to read and apply to both my personal and professional life.

The principles described are found in many other places – Getting More: How You Can Negotiate to Succeed in Work and Life by Stuart Diamond; Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In by Roger Fisher, William Ury, and Bruce Patton; The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership by John C. Maxwell – but I greatly appreciated the structure and organization of the book as well as the myriad of examples and illustrations.  I also enjoyed the writing style used, which came across as friendly and helpful.  The authors are both knowledgeable experts, but they never come across as talking down to their readers.

Two of the most useful discoveries I’ve made in this book were the “power thank-you” and “power apology.”  Described in “Chapter 13: Do More Before, During, and After,” the power thank-you is more than simply showing gratitude; it is a 3-part communication that also shows an understanding of the recipient’s perspective and the possible motivations behind the person’s kind acts.  Similarly, a power apology, explained in “Chapter 18: Influence Positively After You’ve Made Big Mistakes,” takes an apology deeper by explicitly owning our own bad behavior and offering to take steps to rectify the situation.  I believe these two communication structures alone, used sincerely, could save any rocky relationship.

I have found the concepts to be so highly applicable that I have referenced this book in six different articles on this blog:

In conclusion, in both Matthew 20 and Luke 22, Jesus describes the “upside down kingdom” – The greatest among you shall be your servant.  This is the approach to influence described by Drs. Goulston and Ullmen.  While there is not one single reference to Biblical passages or examples in the entire book, the principles described and demonstrated clearly are.  If you are looking for a book on professional communication and influence that embraces Biblical principles, I highly recommend Real Influence.

Links and Resources:

Website for Real Influence: Persuade without Pushing and Gain without Giving In

Series of blog posts by Mark Goulston and John Ullmen based on the concepts in Real Influence: Persuade without Pushing and Gain without Giving In

YouTube Playlist of interview with Dr. Mark Goulston

Communication Fundamentals course on, taught by John Ullmen

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