Sunday, 14 July 2013

Effective influencing skills

The ability to influence is not just a management skill. It is a life skill. It means getting a result which meets the legitimate needs of both parties involved, changing a mindset in the process. It is a very useful skill to have.
I attended a day-long session on developing influencing skills on 10th July, led by Alan Richards from Metice. We were a small group of attendees, six in all, which gave us lots of opportunity to tell our stories, practise our newly developing skills and reflect on them. I attended this session, primarily, because I wanted some tips to enable me to encourage senior academic staff to get behind some reading list software we have introduced at the university, but also to help give me more confidence in doing so.

Influencing, we were told, is not about using Machiavellian techniques nor is it about being a bully. Using either of these styles when managing can often get things done but does not influence, does not 'bring people along' and often means the person in charge won't get the full picture of what's going on as people are wary of engaging in a full discussion. Influencing is much more about instilling trust and cooperation.

Throughout the day we took part in several exercises, below are three which particularly stood out for me:

The Push/Pull exercise - in pairs with palms facing each other, one person would push the other and then vice versa. Then both partners would push each other.  This exercise not only got us out of our seats moving around but demonstrated the push and pull flow in a conversation. To influence effectively, Alan explained, there has to be some push (stating what you want, expressing views, opinions and feelings and using pressures and incentives) and pull (actively listening, encouraging and questioning, being open to suggestions and building rapport). If both parties are being assertive, both pushing, then it is more difficult for progress to be made. I liked this exercise for its simplicity in making this point - it's easy to talk about it but when you're physically pushing against someone the process is instantly recognisable.

Some examples of language to use in these situations:

If someone is being too aggressive or assertive, say "can I just stop you there" . This will then give you space to be assertive in response

To build rapport:

  • "what do you need from me?"
  • "tell me a little bit more"
  • "what difficulties are you facing?"
  • "how can we work together?"
Active listening - in turn we listened to our partners speaking about a particular topic of interest to them and then had to relate it back to the room. I've done similar exercise before, most recently at LIKE 43, however, despite listening intently and caring I don't always remember the details. Active listening comprises:
  • giving full attention
  • reflecting data
  • reflecting feelings
  • interpreting
  • encouraging
  • summarising

While I tend to give my full attention, reflect feelings and encourage, I realised I could perhaps reflect, interpret and summarise a bit more. In the exercise, I was able to re-call quite detailed information, which I still haven't forgotten, so I'm looking forward to trying this out more often.

Found on
Saying 'I want' and 'No' - Due to spending lots of time with my nanan and her friends when I was younger and because my family weren't well off, I was brought up to mind my ps and qs, to respect my elders, to do as I was told,  and to never ask for anything. So saying 'I want' and 'no' in the group sounded very impolite to me. However, they are direct, clear and decisive statements and don't need to be said aggressively - tone is important here. I often say 'I'd like', 'I'd be grateful if' or  'it would be really nice if' and while these are still the polite thing to say in a conversation, when I want to get a task done they are far too passive to use.

This all may seem very obvious to some people, none of it is revolutionary and I'm sure we've all heard it before at some point or another, however, how many of us actually do it? Despite attending this session for a specific purpose, I discovered tips I could use on a daily basis and it encouraged me to reflect on the way I communicate with people.


  1. I was smiling and nodding along to that last bit about 'it would be really nice if' - I do very similar. So many times I've been disappointed when someone didn't do something and then realised I probably didn't make it clear that I really wanted them to do it rather than 'oh, if you wouldn't mind, I'm terribly sorry to ask but it would be lovely if you perhaps maybe' etc. I think I'm a lot firmer now, but struggle with getting the balance right between showing what I expect without coming across in an aggressive or bossy way.

  2. It can be quite tricky, can't it? I've been saying 'I want' much more often and no-one's reacted like I've offended them. Trying to balance it with Sandberg's advice on using 'we' and speaking for the common good can make even the most innocuous exchange take up far too much thought.