Four ways to improve your influence

We are all in the business of influence – but instead of seeing it as manipulation, Dr. Tim Baker outlines how influence, when used ethically, can be an essential business tool

Four ways to improve your influence
Influence is the lifeblood of business, especially for brokers, who must influence the many stakeholders they deal with on a daily basis. However, the word influence means many things to many people. To some, it means being cunning, manipulative and tricky. Others see influence as ethical and open.

In my view, influence is the power to make other people agree with your opinions or get them to do what you want willingly and ethically. The key words here are ‘willingly’ and ‘ethically.’ Sustainable influence is not an exercise in manipulation and trickery.

In the context of sales, marketing and professional advice – areas that brokers regularly work in – influence is, more often than not, about persuading others to think and act in ways that benefit themselves and their circumstances. People make up their own minds, but they do so on the basis of how they are influenced. This is why influencing must be done from an ethical standpoint. 

My new model of influencing, the Influencing Capabilities Framework identifies four primary ways that leaders can and do influence others. You will notice two styles – push and pull. The push style is more assertive, direct and upfront, while the pull style is more collaborative, indirect and subtle. Both are effective in the right place, at the right time, with the right people. The two approaches are logical and emotional. The logical approach is based on fact, rationale, structure and clarity, whereas the emotional approach is based on inspiration, possibility and the ‘big picture.’

Again, both approaches work in the right circumstances. So we end up with four distinct strategies: investigation, calculation, collaboration and motivation. Which one do you favour?

As a strategy of influence, investigation basically means gathering the facts and presenting them in a logical and convincing manner. The presentation of a coherent and assertive argument based on well-founded research is a powerful form of persuasion in the right set of circumstances.

People usually are not convinced by someone who does not have a sound grasp of the facts, nor are they influenced by someone with wavering conviction or an incoherent presentation of his or her ideas. Then again, even if you are logical, coherent, assertive and well-researched, that doesn’t necessarily guarantee that you will be persuasive. But these attributes are at least a good starting point.
Brokers who have a preference for investigating like to search for supporting evidence and, from this data, generate hypotheses or ideas based on a logical, rational argument. Once investigators have prepared a well-founded case, they assert their ideas to others.

Being well-prepared, investigators are typically on solid ground to oppose others’ arguments. In other words, an investigator’s influencing ability is reliant on a carefully researched and assertively communicated case. Climate change campaigner and former US vice president Al Gore is an example of an investigator.

Calculation means to influence by clearly articulating the pitfalls of the status quo and demonstrating how those pitfalls can be overcome with a new proposal.
Psychologists tell us that we are all motivated by pain and pleasure: We try to avoid painful situations as much as we can, such as being late for an important meeting we are chairing. Conversely, we gravitate to pleasurable experiences, such as pleasing our boss by finding the right information in a timely manner.

While this should appear obvious, we each have different ideas of what pain and pleasure are, so we interpret the significance of situations in our own way. A potentially painful situation for one person could be viewed as enjoyment by another. Brokers who are calculators are likely to talk up both the advantages and disadvantages of an approach. Former UK prime minister Margaret Thatcher was a calculator.

The motivation strategy, in essence, means to influence by associating an idea, change or proposal with a clear, compelling and common vision of the future. Brokers who can paint a convincing picture of the future and motivate people with that vision are generally inspirational and influential. Most great leaders have this aptitude.

Unfortunately, from my observations, too many people get caught up in the minutiae of what they are doing. Consequently, they often forget to articulate the link between the proposal and the big picture. People in sales don’t always explain the why – why we are recommending this approach or portfolio. “How does what we are currently doing contribute to the big picture?” is the type of question motivators answer. Former civil rights activist Martin Luther King, Jr. was a motivator.

The strategy of collaboration fundamentally involves influencing through trust-building and sharing ownership of the leader’s proposal. Clients are more likely to be persuaded by an advisor’s suggestion if they feel they have been genuinely consulted about it.

By collaborating with others, the influencer is inviting the people he or she is influencing to be emotionally engaged and involved in the proposal. Clients feel they have a stake in the change and are subsequently more receptive to its merits. Through authentic collaboration, trust builds and influence increases.

Collaborators create positive emotional energy. They are concerned with developing a sense of trust and engagement. Collaborators are consultative in their approach to problemsolving; they actively listen to others and are willing to share ownership of the outcomes through open communication. The influence of collaborators permeates from encouraging input and building higher than normal levels of confidence in colleagues. The late activist Mother Teresa was a collaborator.

We each favour one of these strategies over the other three. The problem is that, from time to time, we will doubtlessly use the wrong strategy, either for the person we are trying to influence or the situation we are in. Outstanding persuaders and influencers use all four strategies in the right place and at the right time.

This is a slightly amended version of an article written by Dr. Tim Baker, thought leader in organizational and leadership development and bestselling author of the book The New Influencing Toolkit: Capabilities for Communicating with Influence.

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