How do you influence?

A standard criterion concerns influencing people and may cover communicating clearly, adapting to an audience and negotiating persuasively.

But how do you describe how you influence?

The more senior the role the more subtle and nuanced the skills become. As the span of people and issues you deal with expands, the demand for flexibility increases. One default technique is not enough. You need to be able to adjust how you behave to accommodate the behavioural preferences of others. These adjustments may operate sub or unconsciously. They are judgements made in the moment, often beyond recognition.

When responding to criteria about influencing, there are some points to consider:

Know what influencing is. Influencing is about having an effect on something or someone, affecting who they are, what they do, how they think. Influencing can be deliberate and unintentional. A performance discussion may include a deliberate intent to persuade a person to change their behaviour. A person can be a role model and highly influential without even knowing it.

What is your preferred style of influencing? Tools can help with understanding this, such as the Influence Dimensions tool. We each have a preferred way of behaving – our default position. For example, I might prefer to just issue orders rather than engage in consultations. There are times when this will work. There are times when an audience [e.g. colleagues, team members, clients, stakeholders] will not respond well.

Know a range of terms to describe influencing style. Two articles that help here are Musselwhite and Plouffe’s Harvard Business Review article What’s your influencing style? And Influencing skills published by The Saylor Foundation. The latter divides influencing methods into the Push and Pull methods. Musselwhite and Plouffe describe five influencing styles: rationalising, asserting, negotiating, inspiring, bridging. Work out which styles you most often use and in what circumstances. Are there any you haven’t used? Should you give them a try?

Judgement is important in knowing which style to use. To push an idea in the face of a more senior person’s resistance can be a ‘career limiting move’ or a courageous effort to stand up for what is good/right/soundly based.

Changing a person’s mind rarely occurs based on facts – providing more information. Where the heart is involved [e.g. there is an emotional attachment to an idea or belief] you will likely need to appeal to both the head and the heart.

Adapt to your audience. You not only need to understand your own style but also the preferred style of those you wish to influence. There is no point trying to persuade someone with copious information and logic who is emotionally attached to their point of view. There may be little point in trying to inspire a team about a new project by asserting the importance of the project from your perspective. You need to work out what their style is and adapt your own style to match it.

Think of examples when you have set out to influence someone. It could be a committee, a working group, a team, a colleague, a manager, a client, a stakeholder. What preparation did you do before attempting to influence? Were you clear on your goals – did you want to change perceptions, beliefs, ideas, behaviour? Did you want to win support and cooperation? Did this include working out their influencing style? Think about what style you used. Was it your default style or did you change it? How? What response did you receive? Did you achieve your goals? Why do you think that was the case?

Dr Ann Villiers, career coach, writer and author, is Australia’s only Mental Nutritionist® specialising in mind and language practices that help people build flexible thinking, confident speaking and quality connections with people.