Influencing is communication; it is presenting and representing, discussion and decision making, delegating, briefing and more. Fundamentally, it is leadership. In other words, it is, therefore, essential. Failure to influence can have highly dysfunctional consequences. In an organization, influencing occurs in all directions. We need to influence both internally and externally, we influence our team members in order to achieve our objectives, we influence when we allocate and delegate tasks, we influence our customers and colleagues, we also influence our managers. What is influencing? It is something positive; it is not manipulating. It can be assertive or responsive without being overtly dictatorial, threatening, aggressive or offensive on the one hand, or weak and submissive on the other. Influencing is about changing someone’s beliefs and actions. It is not simply persuading another person to do something (they may do it but their feelings and thoughts are against it) or convincing others of an idea (they may believe in it but not act on it). Influencing is fundamental in communication. It occurs in common workplace functions such as presentations, negotiations, and e-mail exchanges or when we make recommendations, pitch products or ideas, offer solutions to problems and more.
Take a look at this assertive email:
Subject: Proposal request
Hello Mohammed, We have got to prepare a proposal for a new client. I would like you to take charge of this for us. Please come to my office at 14.00 to discuss the project. Thanks, Ahmed
Now, see how this compares and contrasts with this more responsive one:
Subject: Proposal request
Hi Mohammed, Could I ask a favor? We’ve got to prepare a proposal for a new client. Would you like to take charge of this for us? Would 14.00 be convenient for you to come over and discuss? Thanks, Ahmed
Being assertive does not mean being offensive or impolite while being responsive does not being weak or lead by others. This said when influencing and choosing your approach and tactics, there are numerous factors to consider:
Tip on questioning and influencing: Unless checking or confirming something in a discussion, it is generally best to avoid closed, restrictive questions, such as “can you …?”. “do you … ?”, “are you …?” and so on, when trying to find a mutually acceptable agreement. It is much better to ask a question along the lines of how far could you ...? as this is more likely to get a range of responses or conditions for an agreement rather than a polar yes or no.
This leads us to the question of what it means to influence without authority. Ostensibly, it is influencing, as we have previously defined, without retorting to power bestowed upon you by the hierarchy, that is, without having recourse to say “I am the boss” and forcing another to accept your ideas and thoughts simply because of managerial status. Using authority when influencing shows Influencing without authority is imperative for us all regardless of role or position: firstly, to lead with authority is not leadership but management; secondly, we may not have any authority to influence with! Let us examine some cases of negative influencing attempts:
Case 1: Noor has encountered a problem that she needs an increased budget to remedy. She speaks to her line manager who responds negatively as no reason has been given for the extra spending. Noor’s request is turned down
Case 2: Tom wishes to get support from his colleague Sinead for beginning a new project. He decides to approach Sinead when she is having coffee on her break. He is surprised she seems somewhat dismissive and shocked when she says she is “not the right person to talk to”.
Case 3: Ilya feels the targets his team has been set are unrealistically high so he speaks to his manager, Olga. Unfortunately, Olga dismisses Ilya’s concerns as mere complaints and negativity as she has not heard anything to change her mind other than Ilya’s criticisms.
The issues in these three cases are rather obvious and could, with thought, be easily avoided. In the first, a lack of justification and concrete support has lead to a request being blocked. In the second, we see numerous errors linked to a person, time and place. Finally, we have the omission of justification and consequences leading to concerns being blanked. In all three cases, the attempt to influence has been poorly handled and the interaction has failed. Now, let us turn to the more positive:
Case 1: Yanling is presenting recommendations for ensuring alignment with regulatory requirements. She suggests necessary changes and supports her points with data, facts, reasons, and examples as well as the potential benefits for the organization and stresses the need for urgency in implementation.
Case 2: Fatima must present her team’s recommendations for reversing a trend of declining sales volumes. She presents the analysis and explains the reasons for the decline before moving on to talk about ideas for the future and the potential benefits they could bring. This is supported by sales projections.
Case 3: Richard, a sales representative is meeting with a purchaser. He has a number of new products that the purchaser may be interested in. These are somewhat expensive items but he highlights both the new features and benefits of the items as well as the potential savings that can result from their use.
Justification is a major factor here; with concrete support, it is difficult not to listen to ideas. Future focus, urgency, and benefits are other factor that makes something more influential. Some advice for workplace influencing:
So, to bring everything together, we must use influencing all the time and in a multitude of ways. Our approach must not be static; we must adapt to a range of contextual factors. Most importantly, we can influence others, motivate them and gain their respect without the need to diminish ourselves through the deployment of our job title or position.
Ben Dobbs is Head of Practice for Behavioural Skills with Leoron Professional Development Institute. He specializes in coaching and intensive in-company training in areas including leadership, communication, and functional competences. He most frequently delivers training in Saudi, Arabia, the UAE, Kuwait, and other international locations. Ben is also a frequent article writer and conference presenter.