To support our ’30 second tips’ series, our Head of Learning, Lawrence White, explores in more detail the gnarly subject of ‘influence’ and specifically influence with little or no authority over those that are to be influenced.

Influence or manipulation?

The measure of whether we have exercised influence or manipulated is not in what is done but how. If we are to claim we have influenced, then we must be able to match the following criteria:

  • We have addressed the needs of all parties
  • We have achieved a result that will prevail (i.e. not just a short-term blip)
  • We have maintained or even enhanced our relationship with those being influenced

These are often much easier said than done and it is the latter criteria that will determine whether you have influenced or manipulated.  The tools of influence can be used or abused!

Influencing style matters

We all have our preferred ways of tackling those situations where our needs and wants differ from other people. One useful way to look at styles is to use the Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument (happily abbreviated to TKI). It’s been around a while and is still used – because it works! It combines varying levels of assertiveness and cooperative-ness to give five possible preferences.

Clearly this is a small ‘flavour’ of the TKI – people’s brains are wired differently and have different preferences for these styles. A short survey teases these preferences out; providing good feedback on most used and least used styles – the point being – they are all useful to us – picking the right style should be a matter of choice rather than preference!

Influencing strategies need to be chosen carefully

There are many influencing strategies – some are simple and straight forward – some structured, intricate and require skill. Here are a few thought provokers:

Logical Persuasion This is one of the most popular influencing strategies. It follows the simple construct of cause/effect based on experience or historical data. There is a little more to it than that though.

It involves presenting the facts and laying out an argument. It generally means linking a desired course of action to beneficial, ‘logical’ outcomes. This method is most often used upward, such as creating a business case. Logical Persuasion has some limitations – people don’t always work logically!

There’s also the ‘level’ of interest to consider – i.e. what will be of interest to the people we’re trying to influence. Decide who you’re trying to convince and tailor the benefits to the position on the Org Chart. Let’s ask for some budget for a coffee machine in the staff kitchen…

Think of it as a mountain, at each camp the people have different interests. As you climb the mountain you need to change the positive outcomes.

Establishing Common Goals and Values – This is often less detailed than Logical Persuasion and relies on the influencer creating a strong set of common interests. We create a clear outcome that is desirable to all. To be truly effective, we also instil a set of values that are common to all. Once all are ‘on-side’ we can then introduce the course of action needed to get there.

Selling (or consulting if you’re doing the fancy version) – Selling concepts and ideas is as challenging as selling products or services, often more so given that we’re ‘selling the invisible’. We can exert influence through uncovering previously unknown (or unrecognised) needs. It requires a good level of questioning skill and even better listening skills. At its best it is a collaborative process of establishing mutual needs and creating a mutually beneficial solution or course of action. At its worst, it is a series of obvious and pre-determined questions designed to back us into a corner. So, it is a useful influencing tactic but only when it is done with an open-mind and truly conversational style.

Organisational Awareness – this is perhaps one of the more controversial techniques for influencing, and almost certainly the one that is the most abused! If you are to use this it’s probably better to try it before you try another technique – you’ll see why.

Steven Covey talked about positive people operating within their circle of influence – and that’s great thinking – concentrating your attention on things you can do something about! That said, it presupposes you know how big your circle of influence is. In many cases it may be a lot bigger than you think.

Imagine your position in your organisation – not on the Org Chart – in the web of relationships.

Now, let’s assume you would like to get Liz (Ops director) to agree budget for our coffee machine but Liz is not on your immediate radar. But you do know someone who has that person on their radar, Dev. Just to complicate matters though your relationship with Dev is not particularly strong, but you do have a great relationship with Bob who works closely with Dev and they get on well. It’s now a case of getting Bob onside and agreeing to speak to Dev to put it to Liz – simple! If you’ve got the relationships right it’ll be straight forward – and no need for a business case!

Some people don’t like this one – that’s fine but it’s still useful to know about it so you can recognise when it’s happening to you!

There are many more influencing strategies available. Some, like negotiation, are a large subject in their own right. Others, like feedback and coaching are often seen as the exclusive domain of the manager – they certainly are not. Coaching is an excellent, collaborative influencing tool and feedback can be compelling when delivered well in any direction.