Much of what we do as marketeers and business developers depends on influencing others. Whether it be trying to tease an article out of a busy associate; or convincing a Partner that they should buy in to the campaign you are proposing; or, and perhaps most importantly, demonstrating to a company or individual why they should work with your firm, knowing how to influence is vital.
But what is influence? Can we learn to be better at influencing?
This article sets out what influence is and gives you a framework to be a better influencer.
Influence is the ability to affect the character, development or behaviour of someone or something. If we think about people who have effected change in us, we might think of our parents, or perhaps a friend who has inspired us to do something. We might think about public figures that have had an impact on the way we live our lives. What was it about these people that caused us to change?
Often when we think of influence, we think about inspirational change. However, there is a spectrum along which we can be influenced. From the consensual nature of inspiration, through to the push techniques of force and fear (which can also effect change and be thought of as influence). Some influencing techniques can be open, such as standing up to pitch an idea; others can be covert, perhaps using manipulation.
The “Godfather of Influence” is a man called Dr. Robert Cialdini. I came across his work when I worked for the Foreign Office and thought about it in the context of working with teams and diplomacy. It is perhaps testament to the pervasive nature of influence that I find myself writing about it now. For influence is as central to the career development of business developers and marketeers as it is diplomacy, or indeed medicine, or law, or a myriad of other professions. Indeed, where you have people, you need influence.
Dr Cialdini put forward six principles of persuasion. These can be seen as tools (he called them weapons!) to persuade and influence.
This is based on the fact that we don’t like to be seen to owe something to someone else. It’s why if someone gives us a gift for Christmas, we feel compelled to get one in return. It can be used in marketing through “free gifts”, for example.
This is notion that the less there is of something, the more people want it. This is behind the success of what is seen all the time in marketing offers such as: “for a limited time only”; or “only two remaining”.
This is behind some of the more forceful influencing techniques and is dependent on title and experience. However, the premise that we are more influenced by someone who is credible and knowledgeable, it is also a core building block of trust. As marketeers and business developers, what credentials do we have that give us authority within our firms?
This is the idea that we feel more comfortable when there is consistency in what we say and do, so getting someone to do a little of what we want is more likely to produce bigger, consistent changes in the future.
Simply put, we are more likely to be influenced by someone we like. If we focus on building relationships, we are much more likely to have influence.
6. Social proof.
This is the idea that if “everyone else does it, so should I”.
It might be easy to see how some of these principles could be used in your day-to-day. However, you might think these seem like a challenging starting point into the world of influence. No article on influence is complete without reflecting on these principles and moreover, they demonstrate how so much of how we are influenced goes on without our conscious awareness.
Making the unconscious conscious is something I am a big believer in. It is the basis for the PLEASE model that follows. I have devised this framework to enable people to have conversations that can effect change. PLEASE can be remembered by the phrase: “Please don’t forget to empathise”. You will see why when you read on!
We often go into conversations without properly preparing. I don’t just mean gathering together your facts and figures here. It is also about who you are trying to influence and what you want to get from them. What do you know about the way they take decisions? What techniques are you going to use?
I often write about the need to actively listen. This is another area where it is key. Active listening means listening consciously, rather than by habit. Striving to hear and understand not just what is said, but also what is unsaid. Listening without an agenda is as important when we want to influence as it is in “pure listening” exercises (such as client listening or coaching).
Empathy is about understanding someone else’s point of view. Active listening helps us develop this first stage of empathy, perspective taking. If we want to influence, understanding how and what the other person thinks and where they are coming from is paramount.
To influence we need to ask the right questions. Influence is where advocacy (stating our position) and inquiry (asking questions to understand) intersect. If we do not ask and we try to persuade only through voicing our own opinions, we are likely to meet with resistance. It is all one-way. Conversely, if we do nothing but inquire, we are merely listening. It is the careful balance of these two actions, advocating and asking, that build commitment and influence.
Summarising is a tool often used in active listening. It also helps to build further commitment to change. Whilst you are listening, stop at times to play back what you have heard. Summarise any commitments which have been agreed.
Yes, empathy is in the framework twice. Why? Because is it so important and yet so easily forgotten. We are all different and these differences are key if we are looking to influence. Empathy is enhanced by self-awareness. We use colour profiling to do this.
Are you someone who needs to be able to see a big-picture vision to be influenced? Are you someone who prefers details? Do you need logic? How does the way you like to be influenced impact the way you try and change others? Are you conscious of your approach and how that might be received by someone else? This all comes back to empathy.
We forget that we are all different at our peril. This is particularly true if we are looking to influence and, indeed, when deciding whether we should be influencing at all.