BEING INFLUENTIAL

One of my strengths is that I get passionate about things. And when you’re passionate about something, people follow you, especially if you can articulate the direction it will take, and the ways that it will mean something to them.

What is 'Influence'?

Influence is the ability to change the actions of others in an intentional way [1]. There are two pathways to influence: power (having authority/influence over others) and the skilful use of influence tactics.  Power takes the form of access over important resources, such as information, or being admired and respected within a company. In contrast, skilful use of influence tactics may take a variety of forms.

Assess your influence skills by completing the Managing, Influencing, and Leading Others Survey.

 

The three most effective tactics for influencing subordinates, peers, and managers are rational persuasion, inspirational appeal, and consultation [2]. Collaborative support is also a useful tactic. Tactics which are usually less effective include pressure, coalition, and legitimating.

  • Rational persuasion involves using logic and facts to show your idea or proposal is feasible and will meet important goals. Rational persuasion is rated by subordinates, peers, and managers as effective. Its a good strategy to use when someone shares your objectives. 

  • Inspirational appeal involves appealing to the person’s values and ideals or seeks to arouse the person's emotions to gain commitment for a request or proposal. This is a good strategy if you know what a person cares about. 

  • Consultation involves asking the person to suggest improvements, or help create the plan for a proposed activity or change. Consultation is important if you need someone's input to make an idea succeed and/or if they have the necessary knowledge.

  • Collaborative support involves offering to provide assistance or necessary resources if the person will carry out a request or approve a proposed change. This can be especially useful if people are really busy or lack self-confidence. 

Strategies which can be more useful for influencing peers (rather than managers) include apprising (explaining how the person doing what you ask will benefit or help them) and ingratiation (using praise and flattery). Ingratiation only works if you can sincere and genuine in your praise. 

Strategies which are less often used by effective leaders include exchange (offering to reciprocate at a later time) and personal appeals (asking someone to do something out of friendship or as a favor). And the less successful strategies - usually rated negatively - are legitimating (focusing on your legitimacy/ authority), pressure (e.g., demands, threats, coercion), and coalition (ganging up, and enlsiting the support of others). Pressure and legitimating can be useful when compliance is necessary, such as in a crisis situation.

 

Why is Being Influential Important?

 

“The truest measure of leadership is influence” – John C. Maxwell

This quote emphasizes how important it is to be able to influence other people’s thinking, behaviours, and actions in order to achieve goals. As an academic, you will need to be a persuasive force to move people in a certain direction. For example, you might have to convince an evaluation panel that your proposal is worthy of funding. Or you might have to deal with sceptical colleagues that try to hold you back. By developing influencing skills, you will be able to more effectively persuade or convince others to support an idea, agenda, or direction. Your eventual aim may be to inspire others to take actions and motivate them towards achieving collective goals.

However, research has shown that women are generally less influential than men [5] . This effect starts early, even observable in children [6]. This may be due to gender stereotyping of women as warm and friendly, whereas men are stereotyped as competent and knowledgeable; as a result, women are sometimes viewed as not having the right to influence others [7]. As a result, when men express opinions or lead discussions they are more likely to be listened to. Women who express competence on a topic may actually lose influence through their likeability taking a hit [8] . In contrast, women who endorse more traditionally feminine attributes – such as valuing relationships and putting others first – are viewed as more persuasive by men, compared to women who do not affirm their femininity [9] . In short, stereotypes may be holding women back from being truly influential and from having others hear and act upon their leadership.

How to Improve your Personal Influence

 

How, then, can women improve their abilities to influence others?

 

A starting point can be to understand your typical approach to influencing others. If you have not already done so, we recommend that you complete the Managing, Influencing, and Leading Others Survey. Then consider each of the positive influence tactics discussed above (rational persuasion, etc), and set goals to improve your use of these tactics, and to reduce your use of the negative tactics. 

 

In addition, the Center for Creative Leadership (2017) has identified the following strategies for improving persuasion and influencing skills [10], [11]:

Political

Savvy

Networking

Self-

promotion

Political

Savvy

Interpersonal

skills

Relationship

building

Leadership

Confidence

More Practical Tips

 

Professor Mark Arthur Reed, a recognized international expert in impact research at Newcastle University, recommends six practical methods that researchers can adopt to make their research more influential [18]:

Develop a structured and systematic strategy for engaging with your key stakeholders.

Give:

 

Be genuine about ensuring that your engagements with others contain something that the other person really wants.

Empathise:

 

Put yourself in the other person’s shoes to find out what motivates them.

Assess your power:

 

Think about your levels of situational, social, personal, and transpersonal power and how this impacts your persuasiveness. 

Practice your communication skills

 

e.g., body language.

Go around or

above obstructive individuals.

Suggested links

Suggested videos 

A TED talk by Shawn King (2016) on how individuals can use positive influence to create change.

A TED talk in which Teresa de Grosbois (2016) identifies several habits of highly influential people that you can use to become influential yourself.

A TED talk by Shawn King (2016) on how individuals can use positive influence to create change.

A TED talk by John Levy (2018), a behavioural scientist who studies human activity, who gives more insight into what makes people influential.

A TED talk by Ron Carucci. Ron has conducted a 10-year longitudinal study, interviewing over 2700 people to find out what it takes to become influential. Hint – it hinges on understanding your business, being a great decision maker, knowing your industry, and forming deep relationships.