Influence is one of those invisible workplace resources that, when used effectively, can make things go smoother, get done faster and increase a worker’s or team’s effectiveness.
But wanting more influence on the job doesn’t make you some power-hungry Machiavellian type. Fact is, getting things done well with others will always require a certain amount of influence.
And being aware of that is the first step to increasing your influence — whether it’s with coworkers or those you’re managing.
Building Influence 101
Laying down some of the general groundwork here is well-known business author Robert Cialdini, famous for his writing on influence and the 6 principles of persuasion. For a refresher, check out this whiteboard video.
One interesting point Cialdini makes is that building influence is part of what he calls prework — or the effort we put in to build clout before using it. Accumulating influence doesn’t just happen on its own, of course. It takes effort.
Workplace culture researchers have further identified several general methods of building influence on the job. Some are more appealing than others.
- being forthright and assertive to get what you want
- appearing friendly to get what you want
- using logical arguments and data to back up your asks
- threatening or punishing to make people obey
- offering to help a coworker if they help you
- bringing in higher-ups to get your way
- impeding a coworker’s actions
- using others to help persuade your target
That’s quite a range straddling both poles of the morality scale (being aggressive or threatening isn’t exactly commendable).
But there are other, more refined steps you can use to kickstart or solidify influence with fellow employees — boosting a level of influence that you may underestimate.
Basic influence factors
The head-heart-hand approach
This is a broad-strokes set of methods using logic, emotion, cooperation and levers to gain influence.
Influence to do a project. Influence to get the team working better. Influence to bag higher levels of buy-in for objectives and goals.
The head-heart-hand method has three parts that tie together for maximum results. Let’s break them down.
This means presenting an argument that is logical and uses the appropriate frame(s). The frame means putting forth your request/appeal to someone in a way that explains how it benefits the organization.
It’s also handy in that it can let you get ahead of potential challenges by thinking through and explaining in your pitch how your proposal will get around any easy-to-spot obstacles. Be sure to be clear about your argument’s likelihood of success and how it supports broader organizational goals.
People can bounce off this one, but let’s think it through. The key here is that emotion is defined broadly — we’re not talking about using tears to win your way.
Put clearly, an emotional appeal is one that links your objective to the coworker’s own professional goals or targets.
Their values can also come into play here as one more common ground to connect your proposal — better, think of it as your vision, as this makes it easier for you to get excited about — and their own priorities.
Present your proposal in an energetic way, and express support for their ability to help pull it off.
You can telegraph this explicitly, by mentioning how their involvement will give them a chance to make inroads with the web dev team, or implicitly, by instead talking about how closely the IT team will be involved in the project.
As always, make sure you present your proposal in an energetic way, and express support for their ability to help pull it off, as this will further solidify their commitment.
Cooperation means tapping into social factors to make your appeal successful by building connections with coworker(s) that create mutual commitments.
The three components are collaboration, aka helping build out the specifics of your proposal with those you want to influence; consulting others for their ideas and input; and using existing alliances with those who you already have influence with.
The aim here is to augment your influence-building efforts by the involvement of others, whose participation will further cement your impact.
Build the relationship
Gaining influence isn’t merely about transactions (i.e., you do this for me), but should be about the relationship between influencer and the target influencee.
Your influence with them will be built on the underlying relationship.
Your influence with them will be built on the underlying relationship.
So much of communication is nonverbal. Yet it’s common to think influence is only about what is actually said. But influence is really a two-way connection, with both parties sharing a common ground: trust.
This means actively listening. In a physical sense, this amounts to maintaining eye contact, being mindful of other body language that says “I’m giving you my attention” (such as head nods in agreement), and holding yourself in the right body posture by doing things like leaning in a bit (telegraphing that “I’m listening”) and keeping a legs- and arms-open stance.
And active listening also means engaging in the verbal cues that tell someone you’re following along.
Letting out some “mmm-hmms” when appropriate goes a long way here. So does rephrasing what they said (aka summarizing their point in a simple statement — it’s amazing how this prompts more depth in a conversation) and, of course, asking questions.
Be assertive, not aggressive
Think of a spectrum with two ends: one is aggression, the other passive. Being assertive means finding the comfortable space in between. Passive people at work hold back ideas or fail to stand up for themselves or their ideas; aggressive people care not a whit for the views or needs of others, and seek to control situations for their own betterment only.
If one end of this spectrum is too cold (passivity), and the other too hot (aggression) then assertiveness is just the right warmth.
And that’s not a bad metaphor for being assertive in the workplace.
Assertive influence is considerate of passivity in that you know how passive coworkers need to be prompted or pulled into contributing to a conversation or meeting.
It’s also aware that aggressive workplace behaviours should be consciously avoided (such trying to control things unilaterally and shutting out other voices), or tweaked so that their good qualities — such as being eager to contribute ideas and stick up for yourself — are less likely to be divisive or upset others.
Link your ask to bigger-picture goals and values
Be explicit about how your ‘ask’ connects with larger objectives.
Build up your knowledge of coworkers
This is part of knowing the personal goals and values of who you are trying to influence. Take time to build up something of a profile of them — and find things you have in common.
Take time to build up something of a profile of them — and find things you have in common.
Remember, one of Cialdini’s rules of influence is that people who like you will ascribe more influence to you. And similarity is one key contributor to that sense of likability, so use it if you can. Being an active listener will further boost your likeability.
These are a few easy steps to get going on influence building — but are by no means the only ones.
You can figure out more influence accelerators by keeping the general principles and dynamics of influence in mind while going through the usual day-to-day interactions with coworkers and employees.
Final thoughts on building influence
These are a few easy steps to get going on influence building — but are by no means the only ones. These are a few easy steps to get going on influence building — but are by no means the only ones.
You can figure out more influence accelerators by keeping the general principles and dynamics of influence in mind while going through the usual day-to-day interactions with coworkers and employees. You can figure out more influence accelerators by keeping the general principles and dynamics of influence in mind while going through the usual day-to-day interactions with coworkers and employees.
You’d be surprised how powerful things like building relationships and considering the goals and objectives of others are toward improving relationships — and a healthy dynamic of influence — at work.