How to effectively influence others in the workplace

Influencing is the ability to change someone’s behavior, attitude, or perspective. Every member of an organization will, sooner or later, have to influence others to get them to commit to a course of action. For example, leaders may need to convince team members to take on new responsibilities, or one member of a team might need to ask a colleague for help to successfully complete a project.

The problem is that when influencing is done the wrong way, it can create resentment and resistance rather than commitment. This creates obstacles that make it difficult to achieve both short and long-term objectives. Leaders who use the wrong kind of influencing tactic may negatively impact employee engagement and performance.

So, how can influencing be done effectively—that is, in a manner that helps build trust and cooperation for the long term rather than creating points of division that impede productivity?

Here are some ways that leaders and employees alike can ensure that they effectively influence people:

Learning the Different Types of Influencing Behaviors

When people make a request and try to convince others to commit to a course of action, how they try to influence the other person will fall into one of 11 different “influencing behaviors.” The influencing behaviors that a person most frequently relies on is called their “influencing style.” However, some influencing behaviors are more effective than others, and a few can be counterproductive depending on the situation.

So, one of the most important things that an employee can do to improve their ability to influence others effectively is to learn the different influencing behaviors and when each is most effective. This will help them understand their influencing style as well as their strengths and weaknesses when it comes to influencing others.

But not all 11 influencing behaviors are created equally, so we’ve ranked them all from most to least effective below.

Most Effective for Gaining Commitment

  • Reasoning. Using logic and facts to show why a request may be necessary or beneficial. Most effective when the influencer has identified common ground with the other person and established their authority/expertise.
  • Consulting. Asking another person to suggest improvements or help plan a proposal is effective for gaining commitment from the other party by giving them a sense of ownership. Useful for when the influencer lacks relevant knowledge or expertise and wants the other person to feel included in the decision-making process.
  • Collaborating. Offering to provide resources that help the person being influenced carry out a request can make it easier for the other person to have the time and resources they need to commit to the influencer’s requests.
  • Inspiring. Appealing to others’ values, beliefs, and emotions can be an effective way to build excitement for an idea or proposal. However, this tactic requires an understanding of the other person’s personal value systems to be effective.

Moderately Effective for Gaining Commitment

  • Appraisal. Clarifying how a request will benefit the other person specifically can be an effective way to gain commitment to a course of action. Requires knowing how the action will benefit the other person and that the other person desires that particular benefit.
  • Personal Appeals. If there is a personal relationship between the influencer and the other person, asking them to carry out a request out of a personal sense of loyalty or friendship can work. This is generally most effective when the request has proper authority and isn’t too difficult or costly to carry out.
  • Exchanging. Offering the other person something they want or to reciprocate a “favor” at a later time if the request is carried out can gain commitment to an action by incentivizing cooperation. Most effective for people with the resources and reputation to make the exchange seem likely to happen.
  • Recognizing. Using praise or flattery to improve the other person’s mood can make them more likely to comply with a request. However, may be ineffective if the influencer only ever uses it prior to making a request.

Least Effective for Gaining Commitment

  • Coalition. Enlisting two or more close individuals (either personally or in organizational rank) can help convince someone else to commit to a course of action when a requester lacks credibility or doesn’t have direct access to a decision maker.
  • Pressure. Repeating a request to remind someone who is forgetful about a critical task can be one way to make sure the task is carried out. Mostly useful for when there is a lot at stake, other approaches have failed, and compliance is more important than commitment.
  • Legitimizing. When an influencer’s authority is questioned, they may have to clarify that they do have the authority to make a request. However, this method is mainly for use when other influencing tactics have failed and simple compliance is all that is needed.

Of these influencing behaviors, the last three (coalition, pressure, and legitimizing) are considered the most likely to backfire on the influencer when used incorrectly.

For example, the coalition tactic can make the person being influenced feel like they’re being cornered or “ganged up on.” Pressure, when applied too frequently or in the wrong context, can be interpreted as coercion or a bullying behavior. When legitimizing is overused, the subject is already questioning the influencer’s authority to make the request, and may require more information (reasoning) or motivation (inspiring or collaboration) in order to change their behavior.

By learning the strengths and weaknesses of different influencing behaviors, employees can identify and modify their style as needed to become more effective influencers.

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Setting the Stage for Effective Influencing

Many of the influencing behaviors listed above are much more effective when the person using them has laid down the proper groundwork. The point of influencing isn’t that it’s a “one-and-done” activity. Instead, influencing is a tool to be used in the building of long-term relationships between employees in an organization.

How can employees set the stage for effective influencing? Two key strategies include:

  1. Continually Demonstrating Integrity and Expertise. Several influence behaviors are much more effective when the influencer is trusted by the other person—either as a “subject matter expert” or as a reliable and honest person. Keeping promises made and demonstrating expertise in a given field helps build the reputation necessary to make influencing strategies such as reasoning, consulting, and inspiring more effective.
  2. Building Trust-Based Relationships with Others. Aside from demonstrating personal reliability, keeping promises helps build trust-based relationships with others. Also, by building stronger relationships, employees can learn more about what motivates their peers, bosses, and direct reports. This, in turn, can be useful for exchanging, appraisal, personal appeals or inspiration-based influencing strategies.

Laying the groundwork for influencing others can make it much easier to use a range of influence behaviors so the influencer does not need to rely on any one approach.

Varying the Influencing Strategies Used by Employees

While it may be easy to rely on one or two influencing behaviors because they’re familiar, these strategies can be ineffective if not used in the right situation. Learning to adopt different influencing behaviors to match the situation at hand can help employees become more flexible as influencers.

To help employees develop their influencing behaviors, it may be useful to conduct workshops with teams where they can roleplay different situations where influencing is needed. Providing learning course content that covers each of the different influencing behaviors and how they can be used also enables employees at all levels of an organization to become more effective users of influence.

Learn more about how employees—even those without authority—can effectively use influencing tactics to boost productivity by reading the Water For People case study. Or, contact OnPoint Consulting for help laying the groundwork for effective influencing.

Meta: Knowing how to influence people the right way can mean the difference between harmonious, effective teams and uncooperative ones that fail to meet expectations.

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