The Ultimate Guide to Influencing Skills and How to Use them to Best Effect
In his book Tribes, Seth Godin states that it is leaders – and not managers – who shape the future of business, political and social organisations. And the most powerful tool a leader has, he asserts, is Influencing Skills. Godin:
“Managers manage by using the authority the factory [or organisation] gives them… A manager can’t make change because that’s not his job. His job is to complete tasks assigned to him by someone else in the factory. Leaders, on the other hand, ….. use passion and ideas to lead people, as opposed to using threats and bureaucracy to manage them.”
Whether it is convincing a child to eat their veggies or inspiring members of our staff to deliver, influencing and persuasion skills go a long way. And in the world of entrepreneurship, there is pressure to make others buy into your ideas, products and outlook.
Image courtesy of Pixabay
In this Ultimate Guide, we will deliver answers, and understanding, to the following: (you can jump to sections with these links below)
Herodotus, Greek historian:
“The most hateful human misfortune is for a wise man to have no influence.”
Many of us fail to influence because we don’t realise it takes a skill to do so – not an inborn talent. While some take to it like fish to water, the majority of us must work hard to learn and develop it.
As the case may be, without persuasion skills, we often resort to wrong approaches, which include:
Intimidation, coercion or blackmail isn’t effective. Research shows that we are more productive when we do things willingly. Using power might make those around you do what you want, but only for as long as you are around. When you are gone, everything slows down because there is no self-drive.
The right skills are essential tools to make those you lead or interact with know why they have to do a task, even when there’s no direct benefit.
Some of us might think reminding others about something continually will – in the end – push them to fall in line.
A few might do what you want after your nagging but just to have some peace of mind. Most will get angry and shut you out. Imagining being on the receiving end? This often settles the debate on whether nagging works or not.
3. Overrating Our Persuasive Skills
Being too confident means you’ll stop improving your influencing and persuasion skills. This is especially so for those who are naturally persuasive.
As the world and people change around you, your skills should also improve. You should re-evaluate yourself, at least once in a while, and see whether the skills you have need some improvement.
4. Being Overly Enthusiastic
Excessive enthusiasm is a turn-off to many because it smacks of vested interests. Also, no one will take you seriously if you don’t express seriousness in what you want.
The threshold for your enthusiasm varies with your audience. In particular, different cultures and demographics have varied expectations on etiquette, even in business setups.
5. Talking Without Listening
It’s important to have a conversation with the person you want to persuade. So, a balanced approach is required. Have your say but ensure you are also listening.
Also, when you overtalk, you give up unnecessary information. This could make your audience reconsider their offers.
6. Being Too Anxious
Some anxiety is normal. Too much of it, however, may ruin it for you. It makes you come across as phoney. Also, you certainly don’t give a convincing message if you don’t look confident.
As you build confidence, you must take note of other people’s perception of it. You can’t succeed without doing this. It is the reason why companies invest in brand image.
7. Misunderstanding the Audience
Misunderstanding your audience leads to giving erroneous feedback. And that’s how you end up making costly gaffes. When you give feedback based on misunderstood information, your audience doesn’t get persuaded because they get the impression that you take them for granted.
The good news is, a little effort to know your audience builds and perfects your persuasion skills. The study of your audience starts before the presentation. You need to know in advance, if possible, the demographics of your audience, why the topic is important to them and their level of knowledge (of the topic). The study continues during the presentation as you gauge the reaction of the audience to your presentation.
Clint Eastwood, Renowned American Actor, and Filmmaker:
“It takes tremendous discipline to control the influence, the power you have over other people’s lives.”
Influencing others entails making a special impact on them so that they:
- Take your words seriously,
- See things as you do,
- Think as you do,
- Take action and
- Remain committed.
To achieve any of the above, you need to:
Before you improve your persuasion skill, you must first know where to start. The following are the seven indicators you can use to rank how good you are with persuasion skills:
- Appreciating others
- Making quality decisions
- Being clear in your messaging
- Engaging the audience
- Giving and receiving feedback
- Solving problems
- Being innovative
Depending on where you fall, on a scale of one to ten, in each of these seven qualities, you would fall into one of these levels:
Level 4 – Fully delivering
People at this level score above average in all the 7 vital qualities of persuasion skills. This is the ideal level to be because you would, more often than not, succeed in having others agree with your viewpoints.
Level 3 – High level of delivery
Those at this level score above average in 5 of the vital qualities of persuasion skills. While they are lacking, they are pretty effective in having things done through positive persuasion.
Level 2 – Some delivery
At this level, people score above average in three vital qualities of persuasion skills. While they understand their personal style and know how to adapt it to persuade, they still struggle to have an impact.
Level 1 – Early stages of delivery
A person at this level scores above average in two or one vital qualities of persuasion skills. The success of influencing others is very remote but happens irregularly.
Level 0 – Not delivering
If you score less than average in all the skills indicators, you fall at this level. It is pretty hard for anyone at this level to be a leader or even a team player. Nevertheless, it is a state you can change with a little effort.
For even more accurate self-evaluation, you can use our Influencing competency framework, which will pinpoint the exact and unique persuasion skills you have and where you need to improve.
Now you know just how much skill improvement you need. The next step is building these four qualities which form the foundation of your skills:
- The listening ability – Good influencing ability entails listening to what people want.
- Trust – If people don’t trust you, you won’t influence their decisions.
- Likeable – If people like you, you can easily influence their decisions.
- Articulate your opinion – People who clearly articulate their opinion can easily influence others.
With these, you are on the road to being persuasive.
However, to be really good with influencing you need more. You need to know how to strengthen your self-awareness and inner confidence, understand the mechanics of body language and master the push and pull approaches.
You can gain these valuable skills in our Continuing Professional Development (CPD) accredited influencing training course.
We’ve prepared a comprehensive guide to the Herrmann Brain Dominance Instrument (HBDI). It’s a psychometric assessment tool which evaluates your preferred way of thinking. Also called the “Whole Brain Model,” it reveals which areas people prefer to think and which ones they don’t.
The 120-question HBDI survey is incredibly valuable in assessing thinking patterns of both teams and individuals. It measures preferences as opposed to skills and isn’t really a test since there are no right or wrong answers.
Although we all have the capacity to think in all ways, the survey assesses our preference for one of the following ways (it also assesses variations in stressful times):
- Fact – Logical, technical and financial.
- Form – Organised detailed and structured.
- Feeling –Emotional, sensory and people.
- Future –Risk taker, intuitive and big picture.
By understanding how people think, we can more accurately gauge their motivations, abilities, personalities and many other attributes. Understanding these attributes is a critical step toward effective persuasion and influence. Hence, the tool can be very helpful in the management of human resources.
Most importantly, we can make the same assessment of ourselves, since our own thought biases can derail our persuasiveness. By figuring out your preferences, you can achieve a greater understanding of how and why you make decisions, learn, communicate and solve problems.
Sir David Frost, OBE, journalist, comedian and writer:
“Diplomacy is the art of letting someone else have your way.”
In his book, “Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion,” Robert Cialdini expounds on 6 powerful principles of persuasion. Using such principles, you can achieve your goals much faster, with little obstruction.
You can watch this video, which is a summary of Cialdini’s six principles of persuasions. The list includes:
Reciprocation is tied to the inbuilt social obligations in human nature.
He argues that humans naturally don’t like being indebted to others; hence, would tend to reciprocate whatever favour is offered to them. To an extent, a small gift or favour is likely to lead to a bigger reciprocal response.
Cialdini gives an apt example of an Indian supermarket that sold £1,000 of cheese within a couple of hours, just because they gave customers an incredibly generous offer to chop off whatever size of free cheese sample they wished.
This principle is similar to the “reject and retreat.” In the latter, you first demand a big favour or a high price and then wait for rejection before making a smaller follow-up demand – which happens to be what you wanted all along. Your audience would be more than willing to agree to your second, lower offer as a way of reciprocating the “concession” you made.
2. Commitment and Consistency
“We are what we repeatedly do.”
Commitment and consistency are inbuilt to our human nature too. We don’t like backing out of deals. This means, after agreeing to something verbally or in writing, we’re more likely to do it.
According to past studies, a seemingly simple thing as asking people whether they’ll vote will make them most likely to follow through.
This principle is why people are advised to write down their goals and repeat them verbally several times, to increase their chances of following through. It’s also the reason why people always act in a way that is consistent with their identity, beliefs, and values.
Apply this principle by asking people to commit their offers in writing.
3. Social Proof
We are always influenced by what others do.
Ever wondered why when in unfamiliar situations, people always copy what others are doing? We fear being the odd ones. And we like to do what our peers are doing.
Testimonials from satisfied clients take advantage of this powerful principle. When they see how others have benefited from your services, potential clients are more willing to try you out. They would be even more willing if close friends and relatives recommend your services. Take it a step further by getting recommendations from famous celebrities!
Before you give up on your sales pitch, consider if you’ve given enough social proof.
We always prefer accepting requests from people we like over those we don’t.
Liking is normally based on attributes such as similarity, attractiveness, compliments, conditioning and association, contact, and co-operation. This has far-reaching implications, considering that studies show humans attribute traits like kindness, talent, intelligence, and honesty to people who are physically attractive.
It is a huge step to influencing others if they like you.
We are more likely to follow the demands of people with greater authority (real or perceived). This also means we’re unlikely to challenge our seniors even when they are wrong.
An experiment by Stanley Milgram displayed we could go as far as killing while obeying authority. Indeed, from a young age, we learn to cite authority (this can include data by governing bodies or experts) when we want others to see and accept our viewpoints. This is one of the persuasive skills to use even in business or work environments.
One-time sales, the latest holiday toy or the latest iPhone frenzies all reflect scarcity.
Scarcity is a basic economic theory based on supply and demand. Just about anything would become more valuable if it’s in limited supply.
What’s even more peculiar, we would want something more if it’s uncommon and rare. Therefore, to achieve greater impact, highlight the potential for a wasted opportunity.
Maya Angelou, poet, memoirist, and civil rights activist:
“Anyone of us can be a rainbow in somebody’s clouds.”
Martin Luther King Junior is one of the most influential figures in American history. His “I Have a Dream” speech is one of the greatest speeches in the 20th century. In the speech, he called for equality for people of all races, including black Americans. Through his great influence and against all odds, he rallied masses against injustice.
The principles of persuasion are clearly evident in Dr King’s great influence. No doubt, his Doctorate of Philosophy in Systematic Theology gave him greater authority. Also, people rallied behind him to reciprocate his wilful dedication.
Even if you don’t have such charisma and power, you can start building your skills. Often this requires a delicate balancing act.
- Let people know your abilities and qualifications, but don’t overemphasise your successes.
- Show genuine interest in others, but don’t overdo it; otherwise, it will appear phoney.
- Make sure your presence is rewarding to those around you, but don’t hog the limelight.
- Smile, but not just when others are smiling back at you.
- Yes, do correct people when they go wrong, but don’t be too judgemental.
- Prove that you’re always reliable, but don’t take more responsibility than you can handle.
- Learn to assert yourself without being overly aggressive, which could ruin long-term relationships.
- Be flexible and open to new experiences, but don’t lose your authentic self.
- Develop close personal relationships without intruding where you shouldn’t.
- Take more action than words, but don’t neglect the power of your words.
- Don’t always react to situations; instead, prepare beforehand how you’ll handle unexpected events.
- Constantly evaluate the impact you have and make changes where necessary.
- Don’t rely only on your own capacity, but build a strong network of influencers.
At times, you might assume your words have made an impact, yet they haven’t. Just so you can be sure of the impact you actually have, you should know how to get a better read on people:
- Avoid confirmation bias – People often focus on aspects confirming their biased perceptions. To avoid this, always be open to revising your initial judgements about others.
- Be aware of the influence other people have on you – As you seek to persuade others, many more are trying to do the same to you. Notice the incredible amount of external stimuli in this modern advert-filled life. You’ll surely need some time off once in a while.
Developing persuasion skill is an investment worth your time, effort and money. It becomes more necessary as you advance in your career or business venture.
All this might seem a lot to absorb and even too much to recall. However, the key is to regularly put into practice so it becomes part of your daily routine. That’s the key principle behind the Sticky Learning process. It turns these concepts from mental lessons into lifetime personal behaviours.
You can find further insight, detailed definitions and clarification of all the key influencing terms mentioned in this guide in our Glossary of Terms.
Click below to go to the “Influencing” area of our YouTube channel where you can find a full playlist of skills training for influencing tips.
Feel free to get in touch to find out how our Influencing Skills Training can help you. Simply fill out the form below, and we will be happy to get back to you with further information.
About Daniel Nyairo
Daniel is a writer with the passion for engaging, delighting and inspiring with the right word at the right place in a sentence. He has been writing for the last four years about business management, content marketing, and technology.