Flex Your Influence Style to Boost Your Impact

You and I don’t know each other. And yet, I’m pretty sure we have something important in common. And further, what you and I have in common we also share with leaders of all kinds, politicians, sales reps, and my 10-year-old son. What might that be, you ask? We all spend a lot of time and energy trying to influence others.

What we may not share are the strategies we most commonly use in our influence attempts. I tend toward supporting my point of view with evidence and data. My son, on the other hand, has perfected the strategy of wearing people down through relentless requests.

Depending on your Business Chemistry type, some influence strategies may be more natural for you and some more of a stretch. While there is power in focusing on your strengths, there is also evidence that when it comes to influence, using more strategies is better, so it probably pays to work on adding some of the stretch strategies to your arsenal.1

Earn Trust by Exposing Your Expertise
People are often swayed by experts. But when using expertise as an influence strategy, it’s not enough to simply be an expert, you should expose your expertise, sharing your thoughts as well as evidence that you know what you’re talking about. This evidence may take the form of references to prior experiences or more formal credentials.

As an illustration of the power of expertise, one research study showed that patients in a rehabilitation facility were more likely to follow through with recommended exercises when their therapist’s awards and certifications were displayed publicly.1

This strategy may be a stretch for Integrators for a couple of reasons. First, the Integrators’ tendency toward non-linear and big picture thinking may mean they are less likely to delve deeply into a particular issue to develop true expertise. And even when they do have expertise, Integrators’ consensus-based approach—which sometimes leads them to listen more than they talk—may detract from the perception of them as experts.

Drivers are probably more likely to influence through expertise. With their intense curiosity and cerebral nature, Drivers are particularly likely to develop deep expertise around specialized topics. Moreover, their competitiveness and take-charge attitude means they’re likely more comfortable stating their positions forcefully and displaying their expert-status.

Connect by Displaying Emotional Commitment
Without a show of emotion, people may question your commitment to an idea. On the other hand, displaying passion for an idea can ignite passion in others, as emotions can be contagious. Research studies on “emotional contagion,” where individuals attempt to spread positive emotion among a group, find these groups not only experience an increase in positive mood, but also display more cooperation, less interpersonal conflict, and higher performance.In short, expressing your excitement about an idea can get others excited.

This approach may be a challenge for Guardians, who are often reserved and emotionally contained. While Guardians tend to think it’s important to appear calm and composed, this composure may inadvertently communicate to others that they’re not personally committed to an idea.

Displaying emotional commitment is probably more natural for Pioneers, who are often expressive and energetic, especially when talking about ideas that excite them. The passion a Pioneer shows for an idea signals that they’re personally invested in it.

Connect by Responding to Others’ Emotions
While emotions can be contagious, incongruous emotions can back-fire. Meet your audience where they are by adjusting your tone to match their emotional state. Unbridled enthusiasm may not be appropriate if others have concerns. On the other hand, a too serious approach can dampen the excitement of those in a light-hearted mood. “Mirroring” the behaviors and emotions of others can build rapport, because when someone mirrors us, we perceive them to be more similar, which can make us feel more connected.

Responding to the emotional state of their audience may be difficult for Drivers, who are less likely than the other types to be tuned in to others’ emotions. As a result, Drivers may barrel ahead without sensing whether anyone is with them.

It’s probably easier for Integrators, who are typically more empathic, to both sense and respond to the emotions of others. These are important skills for consensus-building, which is the Integrator’s specialty.

Make New Ideas Seem Familiar
Entering the unknown can be frightening for some people, and ideas that are wildly original can seem too far-fetched to be taken seriously. To help make change easier for people, emphasize how something new is connected with something they already know and understand. For example, the first cars were introduced as “horseless carriages” because this made them seem more familiar to people. Likewise, when he created the lightbulb, Edison chose a shape that resembled the flame of the ubiquitous gas lamp.

This approach may be counterintuitive for Pioneers, who are excited by what’s new and novel, and may be tempted to emphasize, rather than minimize, the originality of an idea. Since they tend to be adaptable, spontaneous, imaginative, and usually up for something new, Pioneers may be less attuned to others’ reluctance or aware of the need to ease people into a change.

For Guardians, this strategy may fit perfectly. Since Guardians tend to be most comfortable with tried and true approaches, and to understand a hesitation to change, they may naturally minimize the differences between a new idea and the status quo to make others feel more comfortable.

You’re No One-trick Pony
While it may be more natural for you to use some of these influence strategies than others, the ability to flex is a powerful leadership skill, particularly within mixed-type groups where different people may respond more strongly to some approaches than others. What’s your “go-to” approach to influencing? Which additional strategies might you stretch toward?

Dr. Suz

Suzanne Vickberg, PhD (aka Dr. Suz)
Dr. Suz is the LCC’s very own social-personality psychologist, which means she studies how people’s thoughts, behaviors and preferences are influenced by both who they are and the situations they’re in. She uses Business Chemistry to help teams explore how the mix of perspectives brought by their individual members influences their work together. Follow her on Twitter @DrSuzBizChem

1Cialdi, R.B., 2001. Harnessing the Science of Persuasion. Harvard Business Review, October Issue.

2Barsade, S.G., 2002. The Ripple Effect: Emotional Contagion and its Influence on Group Behavior. Administrative Science Quarterly, 47, 644-675.

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