Influencing skills - whether to secure the resources you need, lead change, or ask people for help - are an essential part of successful leadership.
Influencing skills have been studied extensively in work settings1. The most, and least, effective ways of influencing people are shown below, together with details of how to recognise each style, and how to improve your own effectiveness.
(You may also want to check out our negotiating skills page focused specifically on more formal discussions).
Most effective influencing styles
- Rational persuasion
- Inspirational appeal
- Ganging up on people
- Telling people to do something because it's their job
- Threatening people
Most effective styles
You have probably come across – and used – most of these. Here are a couple of examples of each style, to help you recognise them. Imagine you are trying to persuade someone to do something....:
You are using the Collaboration style if you emphasise that you will work together on the task, or you will provide some resources or assistance to help them.
If you involve the person in planning the task, or ask them to make suggestions about how to get it done, you are using a Consultation style.
The Rational persuasion style involves using facts and logic to show that your request is relevant and necessary for delivering an important objective.
Inspirational appeal: this is the style you are using when you talk about how important the task is to the overall vision of your work together or how exciting and worthwhile the work is.
These styles all work well. They are likely to get the job done and improve your relationship with the person you are asking to help you.
Styles to avoid
Just don't use the following three tactics. There are plenty of more effective and more pleasant ways to treat people:
Seeking the help of others, in order to get together to persuade someone to do something is called a "Coalition" tactic in the psychological jargon. It isn't effective. People feel they are being ganged up on - which they are - and it brings out their resistance.
The Legitimacy tactic is the workplace equivalent of the parent's "Because I said so". "Because it's in your job description" is the tetchy, tired response of a stressed manager. Take a break and come back with one of the highly effective ways of influencing people described above.
The worst method of all, according to the evidence, is Pressure - using threats or demanding someone does something. This includes persistent micro-management and frequent checking.
Moderately effective styles
And finally, just for completion, here are a few you have probably come across, and that can work in the right circumstances. But the best idea is to focus on the most effective styles above.
Apprising means explaining to people the personal benefits they will gain by doing what you ask them. This can be helpful if they are unaware of the benefits that doing the task would bring, but be careful it doesn't just look like you are threatening them.
Ingratiation: praising or flattering someone to get them to do the job can also work - especially if you express genuine confidence in their ability to achieve new goals. But the existence of trust is important. If you have a good and long relationship with someone they may well believe you when you praise them, but if there is any hint of insincerity in what you do, people will feel you are trying to ingratiate yourself with them - which is the psychological term for this tactic.
Occasionally it works to ask someone to do something as a Personal Favour to you, but this should be used infrequently.
Similarly you can be straightforward about an Exchange - "You scratch my back and I'll scratch yours" - but you will probably only get a calculated commitment from someone. Better to use one of the highly effective methods if you can.
1. For the latest evidence see Lee et al, “How do I get my way? A meta-analytic review of research on influence tactics”, The Leadership Quarterly, 28, 2017, 210 - 228
This exercise gives you a practice scenario to help you influence people through a 'collaborative' approach.
This exercise gives you a practice scenario to help you influence people through a 'consultative' approach.
This exercise gives you a practice scenario to help you influence people through a 'rational persuasion' approach.
This exercise gives you a practice scenario to help you influence people through an 'inspirational appeal' approach.
This exercise asks you to keep a look-out for any ways you try to influence people that are known to be ineffective or counterproductive. It shows you how to replace them with more effective and decent behaviour.
The Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument (TKI) is a well-known way of understanding your approach to, and feelings about, conflict
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