Influencing or influencer

Do you influence or are you an influencer?
In 1936 Dale Carnegie wrote the quintessential self-help book How to Win Friends and Influence People. Maybe he knew that in the soon to be airport bookshop managers, old and new, would be frantically looking for the solution to the art of the deal or how to be the one minute manager before they got on the airplane. Carnegie’s book is considered one of the most influential books of all time.

Carnegie may have been prescient in meeting the needs of the modern manager. But he could not have predicted the rise of the on-line influencer; who sets out to influence, win friends and get paid for doing so.  Maybe it is time for a new book: How to influence people and win friends.

Influencing others hardly started with the on-line incarnation.  In the 18th Century, the royal stamp of approval by George III of the pottery of Josiah Wedgwood enabled Wedgwood to use the King’s approval to increase brand awareness to promote and sell his products. To this day ‘by appointment to the Queen’ carries huge kudos on a whole range of UK products. Wonder what rate the royal household gets of each 1000 followers?

Influencing others is a core skill for any manager. Modern managers are called to spend less time controlling, and more time coaxing staff in what they need to do. As empowerment pushes decisions and responsibilities further down the line, the skills required of managers are changing from ‘how to tell and motivate’ to ‘how to persuade and influence’.

Is this the difference between management and leadership? Possibly.

It may also be a consequence of an educated and skilled workforce, who may ask, quite legitimately, why do we do ‘this’ this way.

Consider some basic principles:

Focus on the person:

Seek to understand first, then to be understood
The fifth habit of Stephen Covey’s “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People”, “Seek first to understand, then to be understood”, is also the first step in the process of fourth habit: “Think Win/Win”. It involves asking ourselves not only what we want from a given situation but also what the other party wants. Do your homework – to uncover their pressures, deadlines, constraints and concerns; e.g. ‘how are you finding …?’

‘Hook’ their interest
By relating the situation to them and by helping them visualise the options available; ‘sell’ to them by solving their problems; e.g. ‘from your perspective, this will mean a 30% reduction in set-up time’.

At their pace
Encourage them to question, to ‘re-think’ their position from another perspective, and to offer suggestions; e.g. ‘how does that sound to you?’

Chunk information
Present information in the way your team or customer assimilate it, if they are a ‘big picture’ person, then give them an overview, if a ‘stickler for detail’, give it to them to the last decimal point

Pitch to the emotions
All the above are process and content; presenting logical, rational arguments is only half the battle; the other half is to address the emotions; how entrenched is their position?
Where is the common ground? One model to help is the ‘hamburger model’ as a guide to communications process:

Mind your language!
Your choice and use of language can help persuade or put them off; some techniques:

To establish rapport, use their terms, language, and their name, be careful it can irritate. Look at the corporate or team jargon and use it, but sparingly.

Open questions
To draw them out, and uncover their opinions and objections, use questions which do not set them up for a ‘yes/no’ answer; e.g. ‘how would you feel about …?’ rather than ‘do you like the idea of …?’

Not orders to encourage them to think they had a part in coming up with the idea; e.g. instead of ‘what you ought to do is …’, try’ what would be the effect if you did ?’ try to sound neutral, and look for the positive

Learn the art of ‘appreciation’
Appreciative Inquiry, a technique to help people ‘think positively’:

  • uses affirmative questioning techniques (hence ‘inquiry’) and language to stimulate positive (‘hence ‘appreciative’) thinking.
  • aims to break people out of their typically negative thought patterns and habits.



Traditional problem-solving Vs Appreciative inquiry
“what went wrong?” >> “what went well?”
“it wasn’t what I expected” >> “what could it be?”
“what a waste of time” >> “what did we learn?”
“is there a problem?” >> “is there an opportunity?”


can be used to help:

“when you were feeling best at your work, what were you doing?”

improve employee performance –
“describe a time when you went that extra mile for a customer, what made that possible?”

build teamwork
“why were you proud to be part of that team?”

It works as follows:

  1. identify: the issue to be discussed, e.g. how to be a more effective team.
  2. appreciate: i.e. find examples of ‘ best’, e.g. ‘describe a time when the group performed well; what were the circumstances?”
  3. inquire: analyse examples and stories of what went well to pinpoint common characteristics of what made them the best times; e.g. ‘when you led that project, what made it a success?’
  4. envision: brainstorm what might be , e.g. ‘what if…?’
  5. focus: home in on what should be, e.g. ‘what ought we/you now be doing in the future…?’
  6. affirm: state your new objective positively, and work out how to make it happen.

Spot the signs to tell when you have won their interest,
watch out for:

  • questions which come with no prompting from you
  • ‘self-referencing’ – when they start to relate what you are saying to their situation with no leading by you.
  • relaxed body language, e.g. unfolded arms, eyes which no longer avert yours, leaning forward in their chair (= interest), leaning back (= absorbing what you have said) (with no pushing by you)

Tread carefully
How to avoid raising their defences and perceptions of :

  • manipulation: e.g. asking them for their view within earshot of a boss they be afraid of contradicting.
  • imposition: i.e. presenting ‘choices’ as a fait accompli.
  • closed/leading questions: which lead to answer you desire, e.g. ‘you couldn’t possibly have a problem with that, could you?
  • personalities: making it personal, e.g. ‘that’s just typical of you’.
  • defensiveness: your case should stand of fall on the merit of what you say, not how loudly or rudely you say it.

Give people choice!

  • 1 is not a choice
  • 2 is a dilemma
  • 3 is the minimum from which to make choices

The do nothing option
Doing nothing is always an option, but should be evaluated on the same terms as the rest; don’t give them an option to do nothing, for they’ll surely take it; instead you must present alternatives, e.g. which option, which to buy, rather than whether to buy’.

Oh, for the good old days of giving orders … the problem was and is other people, they will not respond the way you hope or expect. So you need to be prepared to be influenced and not resent it.

Just don’t take the view of the French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre

Hell is other people’