We learn about influence when we are children, long before the thought of work has crossed our minds, fluttering our eyelashes to get sweeties in the supermarket queue, and dealing with the parents’ favourite ’Eat your vegetables, if you want a pudding" negotiation tactic. Influence is a mix of innate preferences and learned skill, and we tend to be more naturally inclined to influence in one given pattern (negotiating consequences, for example, or using purely logical reasoning).
Whilst these preferences are steeped in the influencing styles we saw in our parents and other important adults as we grew up, influencing is a skill that can be improved at every stage of working life, from your first graduate role to senior management positions.
To succeed in influencing a work situation, it is vital to develop a tool box of skills to fall back on depending on the circumstance and individual personality of the person you are trying to influence, as different styles will get more traction in different situations. Think about enhancing your natural traits, rather than completely changing your approach, as authenticity in influencing is important, and consider the ideas below to get you started.
Think push-me, pull-me
Getting an appropriate balance of push and pull influence styles is key to succeed in influencing any number of situations. Push is a more direct approach, a ’tell’ style, which is unambiguous, clear and gets quick results. Pull is more of a coaching, ’ask’ style of influence, which fosters learning and development, leads to better understanding and engagement.
To return to the analogy of influence used with children, in influencing my daughter to tidy her bedroom, I may use a push style ("this room needs to be tidy, clothes away and books on shelves, before you go near a TV"), or a pull style ("what do you think I see when I come into your room and there is stuff all over the floor?"), depending on factors such as the amount of time we have, whether this is the first time I’ve introduced her to the concept of a bookshelf, and so on. Both styles have their appropriate times and places - there will be no gentle coaching the room clean if my in-laws are about to pull up on the driveway, and in a work context, a push style would be essential in quick-response situations, such as when considering health and safety or legal compliance issues.
The key to this influence style is balance - too much push and you risk seeming aggressive, too much pull and you may seem passive, or even a walkover. Sensing the balance is a skill but one well worth mastering to supplement your influence ’tool box’.
Balance vision with logical reasoning
Another area to consider when expanding your influence style, is the balance between influencing by inspiring people with your vision, and persuading them with your logical argued reason. In some situations a ’leap of faith’ is needed, and influence will largely hang on your ability to inspire with your vision, whilst in other cases a well thought through argument balancing and assessing risk and benefit is what is needed to influence an outcome.
These dramatically different styles will appeal to different people - leaning too much on reason alone can appear clinical to those more emotionally led, but it is important not to come across as hot headed or bullying if relying on your ability to ignite a passionate belief in others to persuade them. The flexibility to move between these two styles is one area in which learned influencing behaviours are especially important, as it is unusual to be able naturally equally good at spread-sheet arguing and rousing battle field speeches.
Practise the style that does not come naturally, get feedback from others when you use it, and find a way to make it authentically yours to supplement your preferred approach when needed.
The absolute, undisputed key to influence in the workplace is trust. If people around you believe you are credible, reliable and not simply seeking to further your own interests, then you will be far better placed to influence them. The reputation for being trustworthy (and unfortunately, the reputation for being untrustworthy - justified or not) is long lasting and spreads wide of your immediate team - there are people in every organisation that others desperately do not want to work for or with because of a lack of trust, and equally those who seem able to inspire others to walk over hot coals.
To make sure you sit on the right side of this dynamic, be sure to ’bring yourself to work’ - a little self disclosure goes a long way to help others know the ’real you’, and be open to your influencing them. The benefits of trust are especially profound when times are tough, or you are trying to persuade people to do something that may disadvantage them personally or increase their workload - putting the time in upfront to develop great relationships with your peers will ensure your ability to influence even when things are hard.
Assert your own wants and negotiate outcomes
A final tactic to consider is how you assert your own desires out of a given situation, and how you negotiate outcomes to get as close to a win win as possible. Finding the right balance point to appear assertive, but not aggressive, is especially important in difficult situations, and you should look to negotiate the best shared outcomes possible to achieve your wants whilst building positive relationships.
Skills such as proactive listening, summarising back the conversation, and asking coaching ’pull’ questions to influence people to your way of thinking combine in difficult situations to allow you to successfully influence others.
’Influence’ in one form or another, appears on the personal development plans of people at all seniority levels, and with widely varied experience. It is not a skill we learn and move on, as the people and situations we need to influence tend to develop in complexity as we progress, and so taking the time to fine time your style and refresh that tool box is relevant wherever you are in your career.