Influence is the power and the ability to personally affect others’ actions, decisions, opinions or thinking.
Ultimately, influence allows you to get things done and achieve desired outcomes.
At one level, influence is about compliance — getting someone to do what you want them to do (or at least not to undermine it). But genuine commitment from other people is often required for you to accomplish key goals and tasks.
Early in your career, or in individual contributor roles, influence is about working effectively with people over whom you have no authority. It requires the ability to present logical and compelling arguments and engaging in give-and-take. In senior-level or executive roles, influence is focused more on steering long-range objectives, inspiration and motivation.
The Center for Creative Leadership has found that influencing tactics fall into one of three categories: logical, emotional or cooperative. We call this influencing with head, heart and hands.
- Logical appeals tap into people’s rational and intellectual positions. You present an argument for the best choice of action based on organizational benefits, personal benefits or both.
- Emotional appeals connect your message, goal or project to individual goals and values. An idea that promotes a person’s feelings of well-being, service or sense of belonging has a good chance of gaining support.
- Cooperative appeals involve collaboration (what will you do together?), consultation (what ideas do other people have?) and alliances (who already support you or have the credibility you need?). Working together to accomplish a mutually important goal extends a hand to others in the organization and is an extremely effective way of influencing.
To maximize your personal influence, you’ll want to become skilled in all three styles of influencing. Decide which tactics will reap the most support for a specific task or strategy and employ one or more approaches. To understand which tactics might work best, consider the following:
Assess the situation. Why are you involved in this work? Why do you need this person’s support? What outcomes are you trying to achieve by influencing this person? Be clear about whom you need to influence and what you want to accomplish.
Know your audience. Identify and understand your stakeholders. Each will have special concerns and issues, plus his or her own agenda, perspectives and priorities. Various groups and individuals will require different approaches for influencing. Tailor your influencing strategy for the particular person, considering individual personalities, goals and objectives, as well as organizational roles and responsibilities.
Review your ability. What tactics do you use most often? Which seem to be most effective? What new tactics could you try in this situation? Draw on others for advice or coaching, too. For example, if you always focus on the logical appeals, have a co-worker who is a strong collaborator help you think through your collaboration tactics and arguments.
Brainstorm your approach. What tactics would work best? Which logical appeals will be most effective? How could you make an emotional or cooperative appeal? What specifically could you say and do to use each type of tactic? Anticipate possible responses and prepare your reply. What counterarguments could you use? What additional influence tactics might be helpful?
At first, you might want to try out new influence tactics in low-risk situations, practicing these skills one-on-one. As you become more versatile, you’ll gain new confidence in your ability to influence teams and larger groups and to persuade others in higher-stakes situations.
But also consider changing tactics right away if you have a pressing issue that has stalled due to lack of buy-in or support. Would a more logical, emotional or collaborative approach make a difference? If so, go ahead and try out a new angle — you might be more influential that you realized.