5 simple steps to Influence

One of the things that comes up over and over again in working with individuals and teams in all organisations and at all levels is influence and it’s cousin empowerment.  Influence and empowerment are related because it is the ability to influence that empowers us.  Empowerment is not something that is conferred on us it is something that we gain through our ability to influence others.

Far too many people that I work with believe that they have no ability to influence situations or people, especially more senior people.  They tend to believe that even trying to influence a situation will be “career limiting” which is generally code for a fear that saying anything that is in any way controversial might expose them to humiliation or some sort of reduction in status.  For the most part these beliefs are unrelated to the present situation and have far more to do with childhood or adolescent experiences.  Of course there are genuinely toxic organisations or situations where these fears are very real, if we find ourselves in situations where we genuinely have no influence we should look to exit them quickly.

I always think there are three types of fear:

  1. Helpful fear, that can keep us safe
  2. Unhelpful fear, relating to a previous experience, that limits us
  3. Somebody else’s fear, that we have accepted from a parent or other authority figure, that we do not need to own at all.

The question I often ask is, would you prefer your team members or colleagues to tell you what they really think or what they think you want to hear?  If the answer is the former (which it always is), then, don’t you think senior people also want to hear what you really think too?

So, supposing we are in this situation where we want to change the way things are being done, the way people are behaving or take advantage of an opportunity, but we fear the consequences of speaking up.  What do we do?  Here are 5 simple steps to influencing others.

  1. How much does it matter? The very first person we need to influence is ourself.  We need to calibrate exactly how strongly we feel about the situation.  Is this something that really matters, that will bother us if we don’t act, or is it something that we can let go of lightly.  If we do feel strongly we need to got to step 2 – if not just let it go.  As we make this calibration we must be careful to only consider how much it matters and to avoid factoring in our perception of the risk or cost of dealing with it.
  2. Practice. For most things we might want to achieve in life the first step is a conversation.  All we have to work out is who we need to have that conversation with and what we need the outcome to be.  So who is it you need to influence and what do you need the outcome to be?  If having that conversation with that individual seems daunting – who can you practice that conversation with?  Find someone you trust who would understand the situation and practice with them until it seems easier.  Most worthwhile things in life need some kind of mixture of courage and skill – the more skill we have the less courage we need.  Through your practice work on the mode and timing of how you will raise the issue – will it be written, face to face, in a meeting or by phone, when is a good time to raise it.
  3. Your commitment. It is precisely because things that matter, matter that exposing them to challenge or ridicule is so hard.  So it often seems easier to rationalise away why we cannot do them or say them than it is to get on with it.  Once we have calibrated how much it matters and practiced the conversation until we are skilled, we are ready to take the next step and expose our thinking.  If that still feels too daunting, we may just need to practice some more.  Committing ourselves can really help us to move forwards.  For example by setting a deadline and telling those we have practiced with.  Or by asking for a meeting or a conversation with the person we need to talk to.  Sometimes the route to the final person we need to persuade will be to persuade other stakeholders first, so that we can arrive at the final conversation with something of a consensus in our pocket.
  4. Tone.  Very often when something is important to us we can misfire and  come across as angry or inflexible.  On the whole we all respond better to charm and friendliness than to anger, although anger absolutely has it’s place depending on the situation.   We need to deliver what we have practiced in the most suitable emotional tone.  If it is something to be angry about – be angry.  If it is something to be charming about be charming.
  5. Ask and their commitment. Be very clear about what an acceptable outcome is.  Make sure that you ask for that commitment at the right moment.  You will want to steer the conversation so that you lay out the context first, then lay out the solution before you ask for whatever it is you need from this individual.  As soon as they agree, stop trying to persuade them and move to a commitment, such as what they will actually do and by when.  As soon as you have this commitment, you will need to move the conversation on to avoid any renegotiation.   One little truth that you may want to bear in mind is that very often if you are looking for “money” it is better to ask for advice and if you are looking for advice it is better to ask for “money” (“money” being anything that will cost the other party in some way including time or effort).

This kind of approach is effective whether you are delegating tasks to peers or those you are responsible for or when you are asking something of someone senior to yourself.  Whether it works or not will always depend on how skilful you can be in your approach and skill always comes with practice, so start practicing, initially with things of less significance and challenge and build up.

There is always a risk that this sort of advice and behaviour comes across as cynical and manipulating, as “selling”.  This is a risk and whether it is cynical or not depends very much on your answer to step 1 and the extent to which the other party might be loosing out.  Wherever possible do your best to work out what the win/win/win.  You may well be asking for something that benefits you, but what are the benefits to the other party and what are the benefits to the wider community as well?  Be sure to include these benefits in your proposed solution in  stage 5.  Where the other party is actually likely to loose out you will need to put additional effort into the context setting and the benefits to the wider community will have to be sufficiently persuasive.

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Neil Crofts

+447803 774239



About Neil Crofts

Writer, coach and consultant on authentic business and authentic leadership. Neil has inspired and motivated hundreds organisations and thousands of individuals to their highest potential. Neil has written three published books and numerous e-books. Neil is a coach, facilitator and consultant helping people and businesses find their authentic purpose and use it to inspire and motivate them to be everything that they can be. Neil has raced cars, been self-employed, run a company and sold it, been employed by large companies, experienced growth and contraction at the heart of the dotcom boom, tried changing companies from the inside and from the outside as European Head of Strategy at internet consultancy/rock band Razorfish. Neil has been independent for over 10 years and delivered his Authentic Leadership message to a diverse range of business audiences including people at BP, Shell, Microsoft, Kraft Foods, MSN, Jamie Oliver, South Gloucestershire Council, National Blood Transfusion Service, KaosPilots Business School, Fashion company By Malene Birger, German technology company Eleven.
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