As a CIO, department manager, or individual contributor, the ability to influence your peers, vendors, business partners, and others is key to both your organization and your professional reputation.
When people think about influencing others, they often think about short-term tactics that are sales-like in approach and appearance. While these certainly are influence techniques, I would like you to widen your thinking and perspective on influence within the workplace and in general.
Below are seven key influence strategies that can be used alone or in combination to achieve your desired outcome.
1. Strategic Influence
Strategic influence is a long-term, holistic approach to building the influence you would like to wield in the future. This could be leadership in a business, technical, or social arena. It could also be quietly and efficiently building credibility, connections, skills, knowledge, and/or infrastructure for use in the future.
Strategic influence may mean taking a leadership role in your company’s digital strategy, business direction, and key internal projects, and/or implementing processes supporting a leading industry trend. This long-term, strategic influence not only builds your resume, but it enhances your professional brand as a business and technical leader.
Use strategic influence to:
- Create a personal career development plan.
- Lay the foundation for influencing specific people by performing specific actions now that will pay influential dividends later, such as:
- Providing some assistance and/or minor favors.
- Building relationships with those you would like to influence.
- Increasing your subject-matter expertise.
2. Tactical Influence
Tactical influence uses specific, short-term, influenced-based tactics to gain the support of a specific person for a specific purpose.
Examples of tactical influence include:
- Reciprocity: Doing something nice for someone now with the hope/anticipation that they will return the favor when needed.
- Liking: Getting people in important decision-making roles to like you, thereby getting them to support you when important decisions arise.
- Delegated authority: Gaining the support of senior players, such as the CIO of your company, and using their approval and authority to influence others.
- Proactive action: Being seen as the person leading the charge on an important business issue, thus getting others within the company to rally around your cause.
- Presentation excellence: Being a great speaker when presenting your thoughts and proposals can be used to gain the support of others in the room.
- Being calm: If you have a reputation for being calm, thinking clearly during times of adversity, and solving difficult issues, people will turn to you when issues arise, enhancing your influence during times of trouble.
Use tactical influence to:
- Motivate your team.
- Gain the support of your peers and project stakeholders.
- Facilitate your image as an internal agent of change with the ability to lead business-driven initiatives.
3. Situational Influence
The term “situational influence” is most commonly used in a marketing context and relates to influencing people to buy products. I describe situational influence in a business context as your knowledge of the topic under discussion and the audience with whom you’re currently speaking.
In business, all influence is situational. Understanding your relative level of knowledge and control is key in assessing your ability to influence them. For example, a project manager has more influence over a team than over stakeholders. As a second example, a brain surgeon who has no knowledge of football has a high level of influence over patients but has very little influence when discussing the NFL with friends. This brain surgeon will, however, gain influence if the discussion turns to the long-term effects of sports-related concussions.
Use situational influence to:
- Define the required level of preparation for an important meeting.
- Identify your relative organizational clout as compared to others.
- Gauge your ability to push your personal agenda and know when to back off.
4. Self-Help-Based Influence
Self-help-based influence is allowing yourself to be influenced by another person specifically for your personal betterment. For example, you feel stressed at work or in life in general, so you “buy-in” to someone’s relaxation philosophy, exercise program, diet regimen, or other activities. This can be of great value to you from a self-help perspective. Additionally, if you understand how this self-help dynamic works, you can use it on other people, to have them follow your philosophy, program, concept, or other activities.
You can use this influence to build your organizational clout by providing technology and business solutions that help others enhance their productivity, increase their professional stature, and enhance their business knowledge.
Use self-help-based influence to:
- Enhance your skills, knowledge, and wellbeing.
- Gain an understanding of how the self-help dynamic works so you can use it with other people.
- Increase your reputation as a thought leader and team player by helping others in this manner.
- Build feelings of loyalty and reciprocity in those you help.
5. Inverted Influence
Inverted influence is the strategy where you seemingly allow yourself to be influenced by another person specifically to gain their attention, favor, trust, and support. I do not personally like this strategy because I consider it both manipulative and disingenuous, but it can be an effective strategy, nevertheless.
Use inverted influence to:
- Use your organizational clout and delegated authority to your advantage.
- Raise your organizational visibility.
- Position yourself for promotion or other professional gains.
Be careful using this strategy. If it backfires, you could dramatically hurt your organizational influence and your professional reputation.
6. Unintended Influence
Sometimes you try to influence someone to do one thing, but they are so against it that they do the opposite, which can undermine your goal. At a macro level, you occasionally see this happen to people running for political office. The candidate says something to influence and rally supporters that has the unintended consequence of energizing and motivating the candidate’s opposition.
In business, this generally falls under the category of “no good deed goes unpunished.” The classic example is when IT tries to implement a new system without the support of the receiving department’s manager.
Interestingly, this type of unintended influence can also be used to your advantage as a way to cancel or push forward projects when your efforts are not accepted or appreciated. When pushback comes from a given manager, simply lower the project’s prioritization and reallocate the resources. If the executives above the dissenting manager want the system implemented, they will convince the manager for you. Then, if the project becomes reprioritized, the department manager will be less of a hurdle.
Use unintended influence to:
- Monitor when and why this happens to others and use it to your advantage.
- Protect yourself by understanding what is happening and using emotional intelligence and empathy to secure your position.
7. Reverse Influence
Reverse influence, often called “reverse psychology,” is when you try to influence someone to do something by telling them they cannot or should not do it.
This is best used to motivate a staff member. You say something like, “I don’t think that will work, but you’re welcome to try it and prove me wrong.”
These seven influence strategies each provide you with a conceptual arrow in your influence quiver. The advantage of studying influence strategies, techniques, and tactics is that, by using process-based influence techniques, you can improve them over time through practice and algorithmic improvement, rather than through gut feelings.