In the simplest terms, influence means, “the ability to have an effect on someone or something.”
So, if you think about it, this concept has very broad application. It doesn’t necessarily define the kind of effect, or who you have an effective on; and it’s not just reserved for people in certain roles at certain levels.
In my experience, we ALL want to have an effect on our surroundings; we want our work to be meaningful and our voice to be heard. We want to make purposeful contributions.
Learning to leverage our influence is a key way in which we do all of these things and more.
The Impact of Influence
The impact of our influence can be a spectrum. I’m sure we all had that friend in high school whom your parents said was a “bad” influence. (Maybe some of you were that friend yourself! No judgement…I expect some parents saw me that way at the time! Thank goodness we survived our teenage years…LOL)
We can also have influence in big ways and small. If you walk into a meeting and smile, you can influence the whole vibe of the team. Likewise, if you walk in sternly, NOT looking for solutions, only pointing out problems and flaws, you can drag the whole team down.
As a professional development trainer, I often focus on helping people learn how to have influence in bigger ways—communicating your big, innovative ideas, for example. But it’s also important to realize that everything we do or don’t do has the ability to influence others (for better or worse), even in small, subtle ways.
Influence is about having an effect on people and/or things, so our influence can impact individuals, teams, and our entire community (personal and professional alike). It can impact goals, metrics, operations and strategy. Your influence can improve these things or detract from them.
Simply put: Your influence can be felt within the organization and beyond.
6 Ways to Influence
There are a variety of different strategies for influence. I’ll share a few here, but realize there are many, many more.
The below list of 6 influence tactics is one I’ve tailored based on a combination of models and principles created by thought leaders like Robert Cialdini and others.
Remember, not all influence is positive. Therefore, some of these tactics may not be recommended. It’s still important to know about them and understand how they are used in the workplace.
- Retribution: Others are influenced based on fear of negative consequences. For example: If you don’t go along with my idea, I’ll create problems for you down the road.
- Reward: Others are influenced based on the promise of positive incentives. For example: If you go along with my idea, we’ll all get raises!
- Reciprocity: Others are influenced based on perception of “debt” and “repaying the favor”. For example: You should go along with my idea because I went along with yours last week!
- Relationship: Others are influenced by your established relationship; they know, like and trust you. For example: I support your idea because you’ve had great ideas in the past and I trust that you can make it work. (This can sometimes mean that people allow themselves to be influenced by those they like socially, even when the true merits of the ideas are inferior.)
- Reason: Others are influenced based on logic and sound judgement. For example: The evidence for this idea is overwhelming, so it only makes sense to support it.
- Reimagination: Others are influenced based on inspiration and a hopeful vision of the future. For example: You’ve painted a picture that is so compelling and so exciting, we can’t help but say yes to what you’re offering!
In general, the first 3 tactics are less powerful, but (unfortunately) commonly used in the workplace. The last 3 are much more powerful, but harder to come by. They require time and effort to achieve, unlike the first three which can be easier and faster.
Additionally, the first 3 tend to be effective only in the short term. They are motivated by fear and self-interest. The last 3 are more positive, sustainable forms of influence because they are based on the person and the merits of the “big idea” being communicated.
The topic of influence is one I plan on exploring in much greater depth in the coming months. If you’re interested in learning more about influence, communication strategies, and other important professional development topics, consider joining the Career Success Library.