Tactics to be more influential at work

Whether you’re trying to get your dream job, convince your boss to give you more responsibility, get your colleagues excited about your idea, get neighbors to vote for your proposal, or simply persuade family members to consider somewhere new for vacation, your influencing skills are key. We all know this. And yet, few of us do it well because we fail to exercise the full breadth of influencing skills at our disposal.

Like a soccer player who learns only to kick with one foot or a boxer who masters just a couple of punches, we often fail to influence others because we return to the same limited set of strategies, over and over again. Usually, we prefer an influencing approach that works on us. The problem with this approach, of course, is that what works on us may not work on others.

Research shows that successful influencers don’t feel frustrated when it comes to the political-influencing game. In fact, they see it as an exciting opportunity. These adept influencers apply a wider variety of tactics to help persuade their leadership and organization to adopt their products, projects, and ideas. Sharpening your ability to influence allows you to choose from a toolbox of skills and select the right one to use at the right time.

If you’ve tried influencing others and haven’t found success, the problem may be simply that you’re using the wrong tactic. I studied research into leading influence approaches and found several different schemas of tactics. Mashing them together into a master list reveals eight influencing tactics that represent a complete repertoire of influence. They are:

    1. Authority
    2. Logic
    3. Friendship
    4. Consulting
    5. Asserting
    6. Vision and values
    7. Exchanging and interests
    8. Coalition building

Here are brief descriptions of each. To begin expanding your influence repertoire, ask three questions as you read them:

  • Which tactics do I use often?
  • Which do I use rarely?
  • Which am I uncomfortable using?

1. Authority: This simply involves citing a higher authority in order to persuade someone to do something. When you try to get someone from another group or even from your team to give you data you need and you say, “The boss wants this done,” you are citing a higher authority to legitimize your demand. This can be a very effective tactic in hierarchical situations. It makes people feel safe or obligated to comply because they are “following the rules,” although it will not necessarily gain their personal commitment.

2. Logic: This is when you string together a set of facts to reach an inevitable conclusion. While we rely on this tactic often to convince others of our views, it has drawbacks. First, it takes time to research the facts and build a logical argument. Second, studies have shown logic is a relatively ineffective approach to changing minds. Rather, people use non-logical approaches to make up their minds and only thereafter use logic to support their decision. You must therefore use something other than logic to convince someone of your position, and then use logic to lock in their new conviction.

3. Friendship: This is asking a friend for a favor. We find it hard to say no when a friend asks for a favor, which makes this a powerful influencing tactic. If you regularly have lunch with someone in another department or attend industry events to regularly bump into potential clients or partners, you build your relationship with that person. You can do this also by sharing interesting new articles and simply picking up the phone periodically to chat. You can then appeal to this friendship when you ask them for information or support.

4. Consulting: This is when you invite people to give their input to help you solve a problem or make a decision. When an expert holds a belief our research shows is probably incorrect, you may ask them, “That makes sense. What we are having trouble reconciling, however, is why do you think we might be seeing that?” Or, “If we act as people are suggesting, that could have a significant negative impact on people who depend on this. What do you think we might do to avoid such an impact?” This is often effective at getting people to collaboratively seek solutions or to build buy-in for your idea, provided your questions and interest in their answers are genuine. People quickly become cynical if you ask their opinion and never pay attention to their response.

5. Asserting: This is simply saying what you want. You may be surprised how effective this tactic is. Rather than engaging someone from another department in the logic of “why” you need data, you simply say “I need XYZ, please send it to me by the end of the day.” When you offer too long a preamble to a request, you may frustrate the person you are talking to or even build resistance that would not have been there had you simply gotten to the point.

6. Vision and values: What is it that would inspire this person? If you understand their values, you can appeal to them when trying to change their mind. If you have been effective at building rapport, you should be able to identify one or more commitments or values the person you are influencing holds. By linking your request to one of these commitments or values, you can win enthusiastic support.

7. Exchanging and interests: This is about giving something and getting something in return. When we try to influence people, there is often an element of exchange along with whatever influencing tactic we try to use. We share global research insights, for example, in exchange for having a voice in how policies are shaped. By continually making helpful “deposits” with others in the form of help and data, we may find getting cooperation later to be easier. The important thing about exchanging is that your currency of exchange—what you offer—must be of value to the other party. This requires that you understand the other party’s interests.

8. Coalition building: This involves building networks and groups that decide to make something happen. The pull of consensus is strong. When you use this fact to convince others to get on board by listing, for example, other individuals or groups that are already on board, you are using coalition building.

We tend to choose the tactics that work best on us, but by looking at the influencing challenge from the perspective of the person we are trying to influence, we can make smarter influencing choices. To practice, use the following exercise:

  • Identify a recent meeting or encounter in which you needed someone to take an immediate action. For example, you may have wanted someone on your team to prioritize your project or to agree to attend a meeting. Ideally, this should be a situation in which you do not hold formal authority over the person, and the person does not hold formal authority over you.
  • Think about the influencing tactics you used or might have used:
    • Which tactics would you normally use?
    • Which would you rarely use?
    • Which would you feel uncomfortable using?
    • Choose one of the influencing tactics you rarely use, how could you apply that tactic in this situation? What would you say?
  • Think about your objective. What immediate action did you want the other person to take? Consider each of the influencing tactics and how you might use them with this person.

This week, pick two influencing tactics you use rarely. Intentionally use them at work. See what happens.

Great artists and athletes continually expand their repertoires. This practice is a path to mastery. Set yourself up on a path to influence mastery by expanding your repertoire as well. Once you become well versed in all eight tactics, you will have the raw ingredients to become a far more effective influencer.

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