The average person is subjected to hundreds of influence attempts every day: advertisements, selling and buying situations, disagreements, debates, discussions, negotiations, etc. Interacting with people involves influence so often that we may not even notice it. However, although it's an important skill, many people are unaware of exactly how influence works and, as a result, are less effective when trying to persuade others.
Have you ever wondered why some people have more influence than others? For the longest time, I thought certain people just have a knack for persuasion, like the typical salesperson who's seemingly born to sell. I wasn't born with that knack. After years of frustration, of not having my projects approved, of struggling to get ideas adopted at work, I read an article that altered my perception. According to the article, everyone can tap into eight sources of power, depending on the situation and people involved, and use several common influence tactics to put that power into action. I began experimenting with different influence tactics, and I was surprised at how a slight adjustment in my approach could deliver much better results. I also became more aware of when I was the target of influence attempts.
I realized that even if you are not born with that knack, you can develop it.
I was a manager in a large corporation at the time, and by applying what I had learned, I was able to secure funding for several projects, see more of my ideas adopted, and even get approval to add to my staff. This newfound knowledge of power and influence made me much more successful as a manager. My status in the organization rose. I felt more capable, more powerful, and more confident. It was fantastic!
Then one day something happened that completely changed my perspective yet again. It was a cold rainy Monday morning and one of my staff members, Pete, appeared in my doorway. His face was ashen and there were dark circles under his eyes. He'd taken a lot of time off recently to care for his wife, but her condition had worsened and she would need full-time care for at least six months. They had no relatives in the area, so he was her only option. Because he'd already exhausted all of his paid time off, he knew company policy would dictate that he request an unpaid leave of absence. Pete was a loyal and dedicated worker who'd rarely taken a sick day in the twenty years he had worked for this company. He was visibly worried and his voice cracked as he spoke, tears forming in the corners of his eyes. I knew enough about Pete’s situation to realize this was an enormous crisis with serious personal and financial implications for him and his wife.
I told him not to worry and promised him we'd think of something. To be honest, I wasn't sure what I could do. Company policy was clear: no remote work. In addition, Pete's job responsibilities were all on-site, so working remotely wouldn’t have been a viable option even if it was an actual option.
When I walked into the staff meeting later that morning, the room was buzzing. Everyone knew about Pete’s situation, and they all wanted to help. We spent most of the meeting brainstorming ways we might help him. The team generated a bunch of really creative ideas that were all against company policy. When the meeting ended, I took the flip charts with the ideas to my office and hung them on my wall. Then I started thinking about how to build a case for helping Pete. I made a list of our power sources and identified key people who might help us. I pulled together a small team and we developed a proposal incorporating our best ideas. Even though all the ideas in our proposal were against standard policy, we presented them with an appeal to the urgency of Pete’s personal situation.
Because we understood our power sources and selected the right influence tactics, we received approval to test our ideas. Ultimately, we got Pete and his wife through their crisis. (The company later adopted some of our ideas as acceptable policy exceptions for people in similar situations). That event convinced me of the importance of understanding power and influence, not just for my own benefit, but to be able to help others.
The best part is, this isn't rocket science. In fact, most people already use power and influence with fairly good results. Increasing your power sources can augment your ability to influence. When the people you influence go on to use their power in a similar way, that's what I call "the power of positive influence."
George D’Iorio has been a leader in the IT industry for more than twenty-five years, with extensive experience in systems engineering, software development, and service management. He has delivered award-winning presentations at national conferences, and is considered to be an expert on leadership, teambuilding, and several professional development topics. George is a long-time member of the National Speakers Association and is passionate about helping people achieve their goals.