Influence Is Not A Dirty Word: How To Start A Following Without Manipulation

Tracy Cocivera's picture Submitted by Tracy Cocivera February 22, 2018 - 5:06pm
Part Two In Our Coaching and Influence Series

“Under the influence," “influential," "She’s a bad influence." Everyone wants to have influence, but no one wants to admit it because the term carries a fairly negative connotation—one that invokes manipulation. Even those who don’t see influence as a bad thing do see it as adversarial: If I win, you must lose.

In truth, influence is how work gets done all over the world. Coercion is useful in the short term if you have access to it, but lasting change is about creating followership, not slavery.

Sarah is a change catalyst who wears impeccably tailored suits and crazy shoes. She always has innovative ideas and a budding strategic plan for how to get her ideas realized. She’s seen as having high potential within her company because she has shown herself to be an exceptional influencer, someone who builds authentic followership. She is a magnet for talent; everyone wants to be on her team and be part of the big transformation projects that she consistently leads. But it’s not just the star power of the projects; people want to work with her no matter what she’s doing.

As Dave, her colleague, put it, “I would follow her anywhere, even if I wasn’t sure where anywhere was.”

Sarah is successful because she knows that influence is a process, and she never stops studying the successes and failures of her own attempts.  Whenever she mounts an influence attempt, she keeps close track of why it succeeded or failed. Aligned with my research on influence, Sarah’s come to intuitively understand that there are five key factors she must pay attention to in order to have people want to follow her.

1. Power

To select the most effective tactics, savvy influencers like Sarah take an inventory of the personal and positional power they hold in relation to their colleagues.

  • Sarah dispassionately assesses how much more or less personal and positional power she possesses compared to a colleague.
  • She assesses whether her colleague perceives and knows she has that power. (Often, inexperienced influencers overestimate the amount of power they have in the eyes of their colleagues.)
  • Finally, Sarah analyzes whether she needs to use more power or is holding enough power to create followership based on the other influence factors.

2. Previous Influence Experiences

Sarah flips back through her journal and takes into consideration what has and hasn't worked well in the past, and how she needs to adapt her strategy for the upcoming influence situation.

3. Impact Of The Request

She looks at "the ask" through the eyes of her colleagues. Is she asking them to do something they would want to do, or something that is hard, important, or unreasonable?

The ask impacts whether Sarah will need to use soft tactics, such as inspirational appeals that will lead to commitment, or more hard tactics, such as coercion, that will lead to compliance. Sarah is constantly calibrating what she asks of her team with the type of tactics she uses.

4. Anticipated Outcome

Unskilled influencers typically don't think through whether their influence attempt will be successful or unsuccessful. They always use the same tactics they are comfortable with when they should be using different tactics instead.

Sarah, a savvy influencer, understands that when she feels her influence attempt will be successful, she uses fewer hard tactics than when she thinks her influence attempt will be unsuccessful. This helps her ensure she works towards a successful outcome.

5. Influence Tactics

Anytime we engage with others in conversation, we use all three types of influence tactics: soft, neutral and hard. A neutral influence tactic is rational persuasion. What distinguishes savvy influencers like Sarah is their conscious use of soft and hard tactics based on their evaluation of the above key influence factors.

For example, when Sarah’s personal power is high— he has been successful before, she is trusted by her colleague, what she is asking her colleague to do is important, and she anticipates a successful outcome—she knows to use fewer hard tactics and more soft and neutral tactics in order to be successful. Unskilled influencers take into consideration only a few of those factors, and as a result, they don’t select the right combination.

So to be a more effective influencer, you need to be like Sarah and understand that influence is not manipulation, but rather a full appreciation of the relationship with your colleague, their perception of you and your power, and the impact of what you are asking them to do.

Perhaps the toughest thing to do is view the ask from someone else’s perspective since we all assume everyone else is motivated, scared, or excited by the same things. Sarah’s true gift is being able to put herself in someone else’s shoes, even if they don't follow her unique style!

Originally published in Forbes.