Influence is a part of everyday life but influencing in an effective and ethical way is something that takes time to learn. Whether you’re a junior staff member on a large team or a CEO of a company, you likely have an idea of what influence looks like.
The act of influencing is often confused with coercion, manipulation, or an inappropriate use of power. Those damaging tactics don’t create trust or lead to long-term successes. However, the ability to influence others isn’t innately negative. You can’t make positive change if you’re not able to advocate for an idea you have, explain the bigger picture, and communicate the value your idea will have for other people.
Why is influence important?
If you’re a manager of a team, you may want to get everyone on board with a department-wide decision. If you’re a leader of a company, you may need to guarantee that your organisation is willing to make changes to support a new company strategy. Effective influence can guarantee easier transitions, smoother negotiations, and more positive working relationships.
It may be difficult to find the right strategy, but at its very core, influence is all about understanding how people think, what people want, and how good long-term results can be provided for everyone involved. Understanding the bigger picture can help you be persuasive and have long-term success.
Understanding influence in leadership: The 4 Sources of Influence
So, what does influence mean? By many definitions, influence is simply the ability to have an effect on someone else. Often, we think of the definition of influencing as the ability to make an impact on decision making. However, the influence management definition varies slightly.
When managing a team or working with clients, influence management involves using communication and negotiation skills to persuade a genuine buy-in from the people you want to get on board with your idea. This could include stakeholders, clients, colleagues, or your team. If you need to convince someone or many people that the idea you have will provide value not only for yourself, but for their own interests as well, you need to understand the stages of influence, types of power, sources of influence, and how to combine these skills to get the best result. These influential leadership skills can help you get better at influencing and negotiating with others.
Power is always a part of influence, but it’s important to understand where different types of power might come from. To influence in a positive and sustainable way, you must be able to inspire confidence in others. This is especially important for leaders and managers within organisations.
You can draw on the 4 Sources of Influence to come up with an effective approach to communicate value with other people. The 4 Sources of Influence is a model derived from Harvard University’s Program on Negotiation. This model asserts that influence can always be traced back to Value, Legitimacy, Power, or Relationship. In this model, value refers to the perceived benefit, legitimacy refers to reasoning, power refers to the type of power used or held, and relationships refer to trust and rapport between people. Using the 4 Sources of Influence paired with key influencing skills may increase your odds of success.
Key influence management skills
According to Harvard University’s Program on Negotiation, there are three general types of power that can come into play when trying to influence others. The three types of power include Vested Authority, Influencing Upwards, and Natural Consequences of Non-Cooperation.
When you use Vested Authority, you are using your natural authority of position. For example, you may be able to ask a junior employee to complete a task by a certain date. You can use your Vested Authority to inform, consult, or negotiate with another person. With Influencing Upwards, you rely on reason to appeal to someone in a position of power. You can do this by highlighting benefits. And lastly, with Natural Consequences of Non-Cooperation, you may be able to convince someone to take action in a non-threatening way by highlighting what negative consequences might occur if action isn’t taken.
One of the most important aspects of influencing is understanding the steps involved. When paired with knowledge of the different types of power, following these steps outlined by the Harvard University Program on Negotiation can make the process easier.
- Engagement: You can’t influence others without first engaging with them. It’s important to provide necessary context and information before pitching an idea.
- Agreement: During this step, you will need to gain a buy-in from the person or people you’re interacting with. If you can communicate key benefits, you can move onto making changes.
- Action: This is the step when a decision or action is taken. You might not always get to this stage even if everyone has agreed.
Examples of real-life influencing techniques
Combining the 4 Sources of Influence, stages of influence, and types of power can look different in a variety of situations. Understanding models and theories can be helpful but reading about real-life scenarios may make it easier to improve your own influence skills.
Influencing Up with a People-Oriented Manager
According to the 4 Sources of Influence, there is a value spectrum. Some people may be people-oriented, and others may be task-oriented. Say you want to influence your people-oriented manager to consider allowing your team to work from home twice a week. If your manager is people-oriented, you might choose to explain why it’s important to you and will be helpful to your coworkers. If you focus on how this decision might make the team happier and more productive, you might sway your manager and influence them to make this decision. Letting your manager know that you understand they get to make the ultimate decision and being ready to listen to their thoughts on the matter would be key parts of Influencing Up.
Using the Three Stages of Influence
When breaking down how you might approach a manager on the topic of work-from-home flexibility, you’ll want to focus on Engagement, Agreement, and Action. The stage of Engagement would include providing context and information about why you think everyone would gain value from this decision. If your manager is cooperating, you may move onto the Agreement stage and hopefully onto Action.
Ways you can improve your influence management skills
You can always improve your ability to influence others. There are different trainings and workshops available to work on your influence and influence management skills. Ultimately, you need to be able to figure out how to truly get people on board and what it will take to make that happen.
The best ways to learn about influencing are by practicing. You can do this by learning and doing role play exercises.
Influencing is a key part of daily life and it’s especially important at work. You can influence others regardless of if you are low on the totem pole or the CEO of the entire organisation. There are best practices you can use to ensure you’re influencing effectively and try to get the most success out of your interactions with others.
If you want to find out more about key influence and negotiation skills, you can explore our CMA Consulting courses and workshops.