Being able to influence others in a positive way is an important life and career skill. Whether trying to motivate team members at work or get buy-in for a new community initiative, the ability to effectively persuade others can help accomplish your goals. However, simply telling people what to do is rarely an effective influencing strategy. Gaining true influence requires understanding different perspectives, building trust with others, and crafting compelling arguments.
Today we will explore six key skills for strengthening your influence abilities based on research from leadership experts.
Understanding Other Perspectives
The first step to influencing others is understanding perspectives different from your own. People are more open to new ideas when they feel heard and respected. As a leader, make time to listen without judgment and uncover what motivates different stakeholders. Ask open-ended questions to learn about others' priorities, experiences and potential concerns related to your proposals. Gathering these insights shows respect and will help tailor your arguments to be most convincing.
For example, during a staff meeting at a nonprofit, the director proposed launching two new outreach programs. However, when soliciting feedback, the accounting manager expressed worries about stretching existing budgets too thin. Rather than dismiss these concerns, the director had a private discussion to better understand the financial constraints. This led to modifying one program's scope and gaining the accountant's support for the revised plan.
Building Rapport and Trust
Earning influence requires building rapport with others over time through honest, empathetic interactions. People are more likely to accept ideas from those they know, like and trust. One effective strategy is finding common interests or values that can form a foundation for stronger professional relationships. Share relevant personal anecdotes to help colleagues see you as a multi-dimensional human being rather than just a coworker. Make eye contact, pay full attention during conversations, and remember key details people share to demonstrate your investment in their success too.
For example, a manager seeking a mentor built trust over lunches by discussing shared hobbies outside work like sports. Opening up in this way made their working relationship more collaborative long-term as invisible barriers broke down. It also set the stage for the mentee to later gain career advice and recommendation of an important new initiative.
Rather than working alone, broaden your circle of influence by forming strategic alliances. Identify potential champions who could promote your ideas given their credibility with certain audiences. Provide value to coalition members by supporting their goals too so the relationship is a two-way partnership. For larger proposals, map stakeholder networks to target early adopters well-positioned to influence others. By enlisting these allies, momentum will build as proposals gain endorsements from respected colleagues.
For instance, a CEO gained advisory board approval for an acquisition by first briefing an advocate well-regarded in the medical research field. This supporter then quietly lobbied peers with complementary expertise to generate "grassroots" backing before the formal vote. With a critical mass of preliminary backing, naysayers found it harder to block the initiative.
Framing Persuasive Arguments
The effective framing and delivery of oral and written arguments is key to nudging others toward your perspective. Always define problems through the audiences' lenses by emphasizing impacts relevant to their priorities and values. Propose your solutions as reasonable next steps building on stakeholders' past interests or successful efforts. Support recommendations with compelling evidence and stories rather than heavy data alone. Tell a clear narrative customers and colleagues can easily envision becoming reality.
To convince investors in renewable energy, one startup emphasized job creation and energy independence instead of only returns. Their arguments resonated more given the times and caused term sheets to pile up as concerned stakeholders proactively sought involvement. By speaking audiences' language instead of their own, influence grew exponentially.
Nothing influences opinion like expertise relevant audiences respect. Consistently deliver accurate information and nuanced insights from your role at the forefront of trends, operations or team successes. Provide transparency into your working knowledge and efforts to benefit others. Over time, colleagues will perceive you as a valuable resource and come to respect the merits behind what you advocate.
A Lean coordinator at a factory steadily gained renown by hosting lunch-and-learn sessions covering tips gleaned from conferences. This allowed disseminating novel approaches and problem-solving strategies employees quickly incorporated into daily work. The coordinator's credibility expanded as suggested practices kept streamlining workflows and enhancing product quality. For future major initiatives, buy-in proved swift given a reservoir of goodwill.
Once persuading stakeholders into agreement in principle, formalizing buy-in through written or verbal commitments activates feelings of consistency and completion vital for moving plans forward. Have interested parties state what support, resources or partnership they can offer to contribute to solutions discussed. Their promises help clarify expectations and accountability on both sides while motivating action through the psychology of consistency.
A PTO organized a school fundraiser more effectively by enabling preliminary pledges at initial kickoff meetings versus vague verbal assent alone. Public commitments by administrators to volunteer, promote on social media and approach local businesses generated concrete offerings that built enthusiasm and kept the campaign on track to exceed its goals.
Influence stems from a combination of interpersonal skills, expert knowledge and strategic alliances that take time to develop. By consistently applying techniques like relationship building, coalition formation and persuasive communication outlined above, any professional can strengthen their ability to lead positive change. True influence comes through mutual understanding and respect, not forceful directives. With practice, you'll gain colleagues' trust as a collaborator focused on jointly solving problems rather than pushing private agendas. Mastering influence paves the way to enacting solutions capable of meaningfully impacting organizations, communities and society as a whole.
Jonathan H. Westover, PhD is Chief Academic & Learning Officer (HCI Academy); Chair/Professor, Organizational Leadership (UVU); OD Consultant (Human Capital Innovations). Read Jonathan Westover's executive profile here.