Persuading others – influencing skills

51Leaders and managers need to be able to influence others, rather than just issue orders. They need to be able to carry the workforce with them by the force of their personality.

We look at how to get your ideas accepted by colleagues and managers. Plan and implement your campaign using Robert Cialdini’s Six Principles of Influence. Once you understand the principles you can plan how to use them effectively in your campaign.

We will look at what not to do, behaviours to avoid, and what makes a successful influencer.

Why are these skills important?

The ability to persuade and influence others is an important management skill.

Management is “achieving things through other people” so it follows that the ability to persuade and influence others is an important skill for leaders and managers.

In our more relaxed culture, people respond better to influencing than the old style regime of issuing orders. Someone who has effective skills in this area has a valuable skill that will help them to advance their career.

The ability to influence people to get things done is actually a life skill too. Every day we need to persuade kids to go to school, colleagues to supply us with some information, partners to get the shopping on the way home from work.

Persuasion and influencing skills could be said to be the ability to convince others to take the action you want them to, ideally without even realising you have influenced them, and definitely without using manipulation, coercion, or nagging ! The objective is to persuade them to want what you want.

Is this negotiation?

You could view influencing and persuading as similar to negotiation, but it is not so overt. In a negotiation there is compromise, perhaps a winner. Influencing is persuading others to follow you, successfully selling your ideas.

You can influence staff, colleagues, and even senior management to accept your ideas, and can help to bring about changes in the business, by convincing others your ideas are good.

But it is true that there may be elements of negotiation in persuading others to agree with you and accept your ideas.

Who needs these skills?

Almost everyone would benefit from honing these skills. It is a competency that will appear on many job descriptions. In fact the skill will in itself affect the interview and its outcome- you need to persuade them you are the best person for the position.

The skills are particularly important in roles such as sales, marketing, and buying, and for people who work in roles such as barristers and solicitors who appear in a courtroom and have to persuade and influence a judge and jury.

If you are asked to evidence this competency in an interview, you could use life references , such as raising funds for a charity, selling tickets for your local choir concerts, keeping your children in order! Or perhaps you persuaded your landlord to pay for a redecoration of your apartment on the grounds that it would be easier to let next time.

How do you persuade others to accept your ideas?

Imagine you have a meeting with senior management, who you want to influence to accept your idea and proposal. You need to plan the meeting in the same way as you would plan a negotiation or a sales meeting.

Before the meeting, you will need to consider their wants and needs, and construct an argument that demonstrates logically how your proposal meets those needs. Explain the benefits (not the features) and then argue your case with conviction.

  • Remember to praise them and their company, ideas, performance.
  • Acknowledge their success.
  • Don’t contradict them outright, say “that is correct, but “.
  • Mirror their body language
  • Use their names.

Identify and build on common ground. Give a reasoned argument, backing up your points with examples. Get your points across confidently, using positive language and body language.

Handle objections carefully and thoroughly. Remember, an objection is an opportunity to sell. If you overcome objections convincingly, you will win supporters. Remember that people wouldn’t bother raising objections if they were not interested and at least considering your proposal.

The Six Principles of Influence

The Six Principles of Influence were defined by Robert Cialdini, and published in his book, “Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion.” in 1984.
The principles are: reciprocity, commitment, social proof, liking, authority, and scarcity. The principles should be used honestly and truthfully and not to manipulate or deceive. Let’s look at each one, and how you might use it in the scenario we are discussing of getting an idea accepted by senior management.

1. Reciprocity

People feel obliged to return favours. So if you have helped a colleague, they may feel obliged to support your proposal.

You could identify someone whose support you would value, and support them or do some favours for them. Or you may be in a position to remind others of favours already done for them

2. Commitment and Consistency

We like to be consistent. So a colleague who has been interested in your proposal initially will probably continue to support it as the idea is developed.

Try to get people’s commitment and “buy in” early on, by involving them in the development of the idea.

3. Social Proof

Or “herd behaviour “. People will go into a busy shop, but are less likely to go into an empty one. If someone supports your idea, others they will follow.
Work hard to get “buy in” from other influencers in your organisation.

4. Liking

We are more likely to be influenced by people we like, or who are similar in age, race or background, because we relate to them and tend to trust them.
Build trust and support over time with the decision makers.

5. Authority

We are used to following the lead of people in positions of authority.

Build support from senior figures and established influencers, even if they are not the decision makers for your project

6. Scarcity

Things are more attractive when they are scarce or there is a time pressure to buy them at a discount.

This is difficult to use directly in our scenario, but you could use urgency, or the pressure of consequences if your idea is not accepted

Behaviours to avoid

Don’t push a point too hard or too long, unless you are handling objections. Look for “buying signals” from your audience – people nodding and smiling. If everyone has “bought in”, then don’t labour your point just because you have more to say. Your audience will disengage, their minds will wander to other tasks waiting for them on their desks, or what shopping they need to pick up on the way home. Move on.

Don’t confuse people by giving them too much unnecessary and irrelevant information. Keep to the point – what is relevant to them and their wants and needs?

Don’t make assumptions about deep seated beliefs. This is different from anticipating their needs intelligently.

Don’t appear desperate, maintain your dignity.

What makes a successful persuader or influencer?

A successful influencer is usually a likeable personality who can connect with their audience by building rapport. They are good listeners. Empathetic, excellent communicators, confident in their own ability. They are reliable and responsible, and build trust.