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The Nine Critical Steps To Influencing Others

by Thuy Sindell, PhD. and Milo Sindell, MS.
Published on September 20, 2017

What are influencing skills?

These are the skills you need to persuade others to support your point of view. Influencing others is also a key part of being a strong leader. With the right influencing skills, an entire organization can benefit from the leader’s ability to gain cooperation and have everyone work effectively.

Successful leaders are able to influence others in a way that improves the work environment. They can help co-workers buy-in to the broader mission and values of their organization. This is why influencing skills are among the top five skills the leaders we work with aim to improve.

Anyone in a leadership role can and should seek to constantly improve their influence abilities. The further up a leader is in an organization, the more important it is to refine these skills.

A good leader who hones these skills is better able to lead those in their organization to achieve its goals. An effective ability to influence others is critical to every leader in any organization.

Why is the ability to influence others in a professional environment important?

To be able to influence others towards a common agenda is necessary to be a good leader. As for why it’s such a sought-after skillset, there are several reasons.

In terms of working effectively in an organization, influencing skills are also important for building trust in leadership. Great leaders naturally command personal respect, but they also contribute to the reputation of organizational leadership. Influencing skills are meant to make others sense and align with the emotions and attitudes of the leader. This social science concept is termed “shared reality”. It explains how influencing others’ attitudes and emotions makes it easier for teams to accomplish goals.

Influence is also about interpersonal connections, which are key in any setting. In a professional setting, the person (leader) building relationships is able to extend their influence more broadly. They are able to align:

  1. The personal attitudes of the leadership
  2. Personal attitudes of co workers
  3. Organizational objectives

This all serves to emotionally unite everyone involved around the leader’s and organization’s own agenda.

In summary, influencing skills must be practiced to establish a more positive and productive status quo. A team with great leaders who understand the nuances of influence is a more effective one.

In a Professional Environment There are Three Ways You Can Influence (Influencing by Role)

The basic principles of how to influence others are consistent. It’s about establishing authority and gaining compliance in a genuine way. Gaining genuine cooperation is key. However, the application of influencing skills will vary depending on your current place in your business.

There are 3 ways you can direct influence, each with its own intricacies:

  1. Up
  2. Laterally
  3. Down

Influencing Up

If you’re still early in your career or current position, you will be working with people you have no authority over. You will need modify your behavior accordingly, listen, and establish rapport based on mutual respect. You will need to make logical appeals and build relationships based on cooperative appeals.

Influencing Laterally

Lateral influence implies you are influencing others who are roughly your equals within an organization. This is a stage where it’s key to develop the key influencing skills of teamwork.

Influencing Down

Influencing down is a very different proposition. When you’re senior to those you need to influence, your job will be more centered around directing others towards longer-term objectives. As leaders in a more literal sense, it’s also about inspiring others from a place of relative success. Last but not least, it’s about communicating and reinforcing the organization’s vision.

Influencing People Starts with Learning How to Communicate Effectively

Influencing people starts with effective communication. Human beings are naturally influenced by effective communication. In a professional setting, power and influence start with these tactics.

Providing Direction

Leaders provide direction and clarity. Effective communication is about knowing how to give each team the direction it needs.

Providing direction is easier when approached from a position of expertise. It also requires clarity, as it’s the leader’s role to make sure all team members are aware of their duties.

Going for Respect over Friendship

Building relationships is a natural part of influencing others. However, it’s important to remember that these relationships should be based on respect. Knowing how to demand respect when you establish rapport is another basic communication skill that is important for influencing others.

Active Listening

Active listening is not just about influence, but it’s important for any kind of relationship. In a business setting, listening to everyone on your team enables you to apply the critical steps needed to influence people.

Being Consistent

Listening and being empathetic is important as well. But it’s impossible to be influential without consistency. People like consistency, predictability, and a degree of certainty. By being consistent, you are a stabilizing force for your team.

The Nine Critical Steps To Influencing Others

Whether you are a new or experienced leader, developing and honing your influencing skills is critical. In fact, developing influencing skills is one of the top five competencies that leaders we work with seek to improve. Here are nine critical steps:

Be an expert.

This is perhaps the simplest and most necessary step. To exercise power effectively, you need credibility. Your capacity to influence is based on the clarity and sense of direction you can provide. So, your influence is limited by the extent of your understanding and knowledge.

To maximize your influence over any given audience, become the master of the areas you plan to exert influence in. This is useful even if you’re simply using your influence to make others follow another expert. You must still take the time to gain an understanding of the subject matter and know precisely why that expert should be followed. Opinions must be backed with genuine understanding to create the foundations of genuine influence.

Identify critical people

Identifying the decision makers is a key part of exerting influence. Your expertise and leadership must be directed towards the people and areas where it will make a difference. This doesn’t just mean deferring to seniority. It also means understanding group dynamics.

This is an area where an org chart can go a long way. Every individual project has a different set of critical people who need to be influenced.

Keep the bigger picture in mind and help others see it

Great leaders drive organizations and all those inside them towards a greater picture. As a leader, your role is to build the course of the daily routine around the big picture.

In a business, or anywhere else, people often lose track of the big picture. This is understandable, as each person has a role to play and many smaller issues to handle. It’s normal to get lost in the sea of small details.

You can assure the big picture isn’t lost by revisiting it when significant conversations are underway. Try to revisit it when you’re trying to influence others.

Confirm your position

To influence people requires you to clarify your position. This should be done with a clear choice of words, direct reports, and the use of evidence, where necessary. The key is to be confident about your position and to make others aware of the most important ideas and points.

Find common ground

Your ability to influence people depends on the other person’s feelings about you. It is often useful to go a bit out of your way to find common ground, even on issues not directly connected to the task at hand. Finding any possible common ground will open up others to your line of thinking. After all, to truly support you, they must be willing to hear you out.

It is easier to find common ground in one-on-one communication. For example, leveraging the fact that you went to the same college as the other person to try to land a job interview. It’s not necessarily going to create an opportunity for an interview, but it will at least create a new conversation that opens up the possibility.

The first step to finding common ground is speaking clearly. Your position must be clear. After that, listening carefully can provide some hints you need to establish commonalities. Actively try to identify shared life experiences and use them to influence others.

Identify and provide evidence

People normally need a good reason to change their minds. Your communication skills are important in establishing the rapport to influence others. But evidence is needed to change others’ perspectives.

Be prepared to use evidence to support your stronger claims. Rely on data from reliable sources to convince the other person. In a leadership role, others expect you to have the knowledge to justify meaningful decisions. After using harder facts, you can normally use an anecdotal example or two as well.

Employ reciprocity

Reciprocity is the foundation of human cooperation. People have always required the ability to establish at least a feeling of reciprocity to win friends and to influence others towards common goals.

In general, people will respond better to you if they feel you’ve done something positive for them. This “Rule of Reciprocity” establishes a feeling of obligation to return the favors you’ve provided others with. Genuine reciprocity is instinctive and comes from an authentic place.

When you receive something positive from others, whether a friend, co worker, or anyone else, you will want to repay the debt. It doesn’t even matter whether they’re a family member or a stranger, or anything in between. In the context of getting another person to listen to you, reciprocity establishes positive feelings.

People want you to recognize their feelings and respect their ideas. A 2016 Dale Carnegie Training survey on leadership found that 90% of employees said it’s either “important” or “very important” that leaders understand and respect their ideas. Essentially, following the rule of reciprocity means that you and your colleagues listen to each other and hear what’s important to each other on a daily basis.

Practical Steps

Here are some practical steps that enable you to use the rule of reciprocity to keep others motivated and make things happen:

  • Ask questions with the intention of clarifying or exploring
  • Avoid asking questions with the intention of challenging, where possible
  • Approach challenges as opportunities for discovery, not for arguments
  • Speak up to recognize and support others’ ideas, wherever possible
  • Show genuine interest in your team
  • Build relationships through genuine understanding
  • Invite others to ask questions so you can address any misconceptions they may have about your own positions.

Of course, it’s not possible to always achieve consensus. This is why you must balance being (genuinely) open to others’ opinions and having principled convictions of your own, which you must stand up for.

Being open for genuine communication is helpful. But changing your position too often will confuse others as to what your position really is. Leaders must be open to hearing every unique idea, but must also carry on with purpose and a strong sense of direction.

Determine what’s in it for them (WIIFT)

This is similar to our last point on the importance of reciprocity. Influencing others necessitates your understanding of what is in it for the other person. So, you will need to highlight the benefits the other person receives for embracing a similar line of thinking to yours.

This step requires a few familiar influencing skills. You must demonstrate that you understand their point of view while you talk to them. So, start by acknowledging the relationship between their interests and your idea. Connect the goal they have and what you what to influence them towards.

This circles back to regular communication skills. Pay attention to their behavior and reactions. Ask questions and probe for their responses, including body language. Then follow up with how you can support their goal.

Acknowledge the Emotional State of others

You don’t need to pretend you don’t sense the emotional states of the people you talk to. In fact, when trying to influence them, it’s an important thing to pay attention to.

A 2017 Businessolver survey found that 82% of employees see empathy as a key to influence. Ignoring the emotional state of others is in fact to actively do more harm than good.

It’s a balancing act. Ignoring emotions in the workplace makes leaders seem uncaring, or as only caring about the business and their own position. Too much digging on the other hand will seem inappropriate. The right balance will depend on the audience and specific circumstances.

Key Points To Remember to Improve Your Influencing Skills

If you want to be taken seriously as a leader than you must have effective influencing abilities. To be able to influence you need to be prepared, offer well-considered ideas and solutions and speak confidently about them. You are the expert, you have experience, and you were hired to do a job. As a leader everyone, at every level, expects you to do that job - to lead and to be able to influence them accordingly.

Influencing others takes practice and requires a strategy. The ability to get your team to buy in to your positions will, however, ensure that your hard work pays off.

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