how to influence others

How to Influence Others Even if You Don’t Know Them Well

This post was originally published in the Newsletter for CIPD Management Toolclicks.  You can read the original article here.

One of the key challenges of being a manager and a leader is that you have to develop a much more sophisticated set of communication skills.  Leadership is all about making things happen through others and that means that it’s critical you know how to influence others.  You need to be a master of persuasion to create changes in others attitudes and behaviour and gain their commitment to your ideas and proposals in a way that is ethical and respectful.

We know that people are more easily influenced by people they have a strong relationship with and that should be the aim of efforts at building relationships with your direct reports.

But sometimes you’re in a position where you need to manage and influence people who you don’t know well.  That is admittedly much harder.

How to Influence Others

Here are 4 approaches that help:

1.  Prove your authority and credibility

We trust and are more easily persuaded by those with noted expertise.  When a doctor gives you medical advice, you are much more willing to follow the doctor’s advice than if an ordinary person gave you the same advice.  If Andy Murray were to give you tennis lessons, you would follow his advice more thoroughly than if you received advice from a local tennis coach.

Surprisingly, people will often assume that others recognise and appreciate their experience when, in fact, the oppo­site is the case.  So how to influence others by proving your authority and credibility? Options include:

  • Ask someone who is also seen as an authority to introduce you, citing your credentials
  • Send a letter or email before a meeting, which includes information about your expertise, training, qualifications and experience.
  • Tell stories that highlight your key achievements, experi­ence and qualifications

2.  Be reliable

Once we make a decision, we like to be consistent in our thoughts, feelings and actions.  This is the reason first impressions are so important.  Once someone has made an early impression of you, their subconscious mind notes the behaviour that supports that view.   Others seeing you as reliable is critical to building trust so make sure they can depend on you right from the outset.

3.  Be likeable

Whether we like it or not people prefer to say yes to, and comply with, those they like.  So what characteristics influence people’s liking for others? Social scientists point towards three spe­cific elements of liking:

  • Similarity.  People like oth­ers who are similar to them.  By expressing things about yourself which are similar to the person you are talking to, you can increase your ability to influence.
  • Praise.  People will like those who pay them compli­ments and give them praise – as long as it is genuine and sincere!  In fact, research shows that people are more likely to respond positively to a request immediately after the person making the request has paid them a compliment.
  • Co-operation.  We like people who co-operate with us towards mutual goals. The opposite of cooperation is competition.  Competition involves getting something the other person then misses.  Wherever possible and whenever possible, cooperate with people so you and they both benefit should you succeed.  Also, minimise competition so you are not fighting over a valuable resource.

4.  Make it easy for them to say yes

We know that little changes are easier to make than big ones so use this to your advantage when communicating with people.  Get the person you are trying to influence to commit to first steps that will progress to the larger steps you hope they will take. 

Although these approaches are conceptually distinct, you are likely to be most effective at influencing and persuading when you use more than one at once.   And they can be very effective.

So it’s important to remember that in business we are all looking to foster long term and prosperous working relationships.  It is one thing to know how to influence others.  It is equally important to know how to do so honestly and ethically.

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