Influencing people

Influencing skills are an essential part of successful leadership, and have been studied fairly extensively in work settings1.

The most, and least, effective ways of influencing people are shown below, together with details of how to recognise each style, and how to improve your own effectiveness.

Most effective styles

You have probably come across – and used – most of these. Here are a couple of examples of each style, to help you recognise them. Imagine you are trying to persuade someone to do something....:

You are using the Collaboration style if you emphasise that you will work together on the task, or you will provide some resources or assistance to help them.

If you involve the person in planning the task, or ask them to make suggestions about how to get it done, you are using a Consultation style.

The Rational persuasion style involves using facts and logic to show that your request is relevant and necessary for delivering an important objective

Inspirational appeal: this is the style you are using when you talk about how important the task is to the overall vision of your work together or how exciting and worthwhile the work is.

These styles all work well. They are likely to get the job done and improve your relationship with the person you are asking to help you.

 

Styles to avoid

Just don't use the following three tactics. There are plenty of more effective and more pleasant ways to treat people:

Seeking the help of others, in order to get together to persuade someone to do something is called a "Coalition" tactic in the psychological jargon. It isn't effective. People feel they are being ganged up on - which they are - and it brings out their resistance.

The Legitimacy tactic is the workplace equivalent of the parent's "Because I said so". "Because it's in your job description" is the tetchy, tired response of a stressed manager. Take a break and come back with one of the highly effective ways of influencing people described above.

The worst method of all, according to the evidence, is Pressure - using threats or demanding someone does something. This includes persistent micro-management and frequent checking.

 

Moderately effective styles

And finally, just for completion, here are a few you have probably come across, and that can work in the right circumstances. But the best idea is to focus on the most effective styles above.

Apprising means explaining to people the personal benefits they will gain by doing what you ask them. This can be helpful if they are unaware of the benefits that doing the task would bring, but be careful it doesn't just look like you are threatening them.

Ingratiation: praising or flattering someone to get them to do the job can also work - especially if you express genuine confidence in their ability to achieve new goals. But the existence of trust is important. If you have a good and long relationship with someone they may well believe you when you praise them, but if there is any hint of insincerity in what you do, people will feel you are trying to ingratiate yourself with them - which is the psychological term for this tactic.

Occasionally it works to ask someone to do something as a Personal Favour to you, but this should be used infrequently.

Similarly you can be straightforward about an Exchange - "You scratch my back and I'll scratch yours" - but you will probably only get a calculated commitment from someone. Better to use one of the highly effective methods if you can.

 

Quick Tips

Increasing your ‘highly effective’ influencing

  1. Pick one of the ‘highly effective’ influencing style you want to develop, and note down, from the ideas below, a couple of ways in which you could improve.
  2. Write the two changes in behaviour you want to make on a small piece of paper inside your purse, on your phone – somewhere where you will see it regularly.
  3. Make a real effort to use these behaviours – appropriately, of course -  over the next four weeks. Making a consistent conscious effort to change your behaviour is the best way of making it stick long term.

Improving your “collaboration” style

  • Offer to show someone how to do the task you are asking them to do; talk them through it; say you are there for advice if they need it.
  • Offer to help them with it.
  • Offer them extra resources if they need it.

Improving your “consultation” style

  • Ask the person for any ideas they might have about how to do the task better; ask for suggestions.
  • Ask the person if they have any concerns about doing the task and how they could be overcome.
  • Ask at an early stage about how you might best plan the task together.

Improving your “rational persuasion” style

  • Explain clearly why the task needs to be done, how it fits in the bigger picture of what you are doing together.
  • Use facts and logic; provide relevant background information.
  • Explain why the task is likely to lead to a successful outcome.

Improving your “inspirational appeal” style

  • Describe your vision of what this task is a key part of.
  • Refer to the values you share.
  • Describe the task as an opportunity to do something worthwhile in an area you are both committed to.

 

Reducing your ‘least effective’ influencing

  1. Pick one of the ‘least effective’ influencing styles you want to do less of, and note down, from the ideas below, a couple of ways in which you could change your behavior for the better.
  2. Write the two changes in behaviour you want to make on a small piece of paper inside your wallet, on your phone – somewhere where you will see it regularly.
  3. Make a real effort to reduce these behaviours over the next two weeks. Even better – replace them with a couple of behaviours from the ‘highly effective’ influencing list. Making a consistent conscious effort to change your behaviour is the best way of making it stick long term.

Reducing your “pressure” style

  • Don’t state a task you want doing as a demand; work out a way of re-wording the request using the collaborative, consultative, rational persuasion, or inspirational appeal behaviours.
  • Think about how any of your behaviour might be regarded as threatening. If possible, ask people for feedback on this – many people are unaware of behaviour that might come across in this way. Then work out how to replace that behaviour with collaborative, consultative, or rational persuasion behaviours from the lists above. Again, ask for advice if you are not sure how to do this.

Reducing your “legitimacy” style

  • Don’t say “This is part of your job description so you must do it”.
  • Similarly with “It’s our policy so has to be done this way”, “ People in your role have always done this”.
  • Replace these behaviours with collaborative, consultative, rational persuasion or inspirational appeal behaviours from the lists above.

Reducing your “coalition” style

  • Don’t get others to ask people to do tasks on your behalf.
  • Don’t take others with you when asking someone to do a task – it can be seen as pressure.
  • Replace these behaviours with collaborative, consultative, rational persuasion or inspirational appeal behaviours from the lists above.

 

1For the latest evidence see Lee et al, “How do I get my way? A meta-analytic review of research on influence tactics”, The Leadership Quarterly, 28, 2017, 210 - 228