by Don Morley

Common questions

  1. How can I influence someone who is senior to me?
  2. Where do I start when the influencing issue is so large?
  3. How do I influence a person I don’t really like?
  4. What is the quickest way to influence someone?
  5. How do I influence them when they hold all the cards?
  6. How can I influence a person I hardly know?
  7. How can I influence others when I’m not even convinced myself?
  8. How do I influence the really difficult people?
  9. How can I be more influential at meetings?


1. How can I influence someone who is senior to me?

Being less senior than someone does not mean you are disadvantaged when it comes to exercising influence, but it can obstruct your effectiveness in influencing if you grant that senior person too much respect, assume they know more than you do, believe them to be more intelligent and so on. The ways to counter such thoughts and make yourself comfortable with the challenge might include:

  • Getting to know the person better
  • Tapping into colleagues who work with them more closely
  • Building confidence in your proposition by testing it on others
  • Working on your positive mindset
  • Developing allies for the approach you want to take
  • Establishing what and why may be their objection
  • Having alternative solutions that could be much more acceptable.


2. Where do I start when the influencing issue is so large?

Start with the end in mind. Take time to establish, as clearly as you can, what the outcome will look, sound and feel like – and not just for you but for the others involved. Time constraints in a modern organisation can so easily lead to blinkered thinking, premature decisions and sub-optimal results. A big project probably justifies big preparation. Remember that you are not alone: there will be others who stand to gain or lose, expect to be involved or would be willing to devote time and advice... providing you are smart enough to include them from the beginning.

Once you have accessed these resources, you will be much better placed to accurately define, present, justify and defend.

  • What is the purpose and outcome of the initiative?
  • Why it is beneficial/necessary?
  • Who/what you need to bring it to fruition?


3. How do I influence a person I don’t really like?

From time to time we will encounter colleagues, customers or business contacts we don’t really like very much. If you cannot remove the other party from the proceedings, focus all your energies on the desired outcome. Constantly remind yourself of the purpose of interacting with him or her. Prior to meeting, or communicating, revisit the benefits of the activity you are engaged upon. This is business... so treat the person as a business, as one part of the solution to the task you have set yourself. You are a professional and they are professionally useful to you. They also have a job to perform, so make it easy for them to agree with you.


4. What is the quickest way to influence someone?

A change initiative will often fail because staff have been on the receiving end of a well-crafted presentation supposed to win them over – the ‘it will be good for you’ syndrome. But this doesn’t win them over; quite often it makes them more resistant than they were in the first place.

Helping someone/influencing them to change their mind invariably takes time. Just how long it takes will depend on a number of factors:

  • The effort you have put into building a relationship with the person
  • The extent to which you have tried to put yourself in their shoes
  • The assistance you have sought from your contacts or theirs
  • The ‘incentives’ you can offer that would interest them
  • The openness of your approach in explaining why you need them to change.

The way you go about these points is at the heart of this section. The more skilled you become in them, the quicker the journey to agreement will be.


5. How do I influence someone who seems to hold all the cards?

It may appear this way, but a little probing will often reveal that this is not the case. In any event, influence is not a game to be won. It is a process by which you move the other party’s thinking to the point where you are now satisfied with the outcome and have simultaneously retained their goodwill.

So they are not holding all the cards, but there appears to be a significant number of areas where your thinking is different to theirs. You need to ask yourself a number of questions:

  • Is this true – and not just my perception?
  • Could it be that someone else has given me false information?
  • If it is true, why do they think differently?
  • Can I establish what may be causing them to think this way?
  • What would it take to help them change their view?
  • Who else might assist me in this task?
  • What could I change about my position that might close the gap?

These questions will help you to engage in a constructive dialogue. Remember that influence is about ‘pulling’ others towards your position rather than ‘pushing’ your point of view upon them.


6. How can I influence a person I hardly know?

Clearly, you can get creative about how you might ‘accidentally’ wind up on the same train, sit next to each other in the canteen, attend the same meeting, or find a pretext for telephoning or emailing them and so on.

In addition, remember your network. Do you know anyone who knows the person – their secretary, a work colleague, even a friend outside of the organisation? You only need some basic information about them...

  • Are they big picture or detail oriented?
  • Are they go-getters or more considered in their approach?
  • Do they err on the optimistic or pessimistic side?
  • Would they be described as a loner or a team person?
  • Are they up for change or do they prefer the status quo?

All you need is enough information to get off on the right foot by expressing your views in a way with which they can identify and feel comfortable. If you do not invest this time, you might say something out of place or present your case in a way that builds resistance rather than acceptance.


7. How can I influence others when I’m not even convinced myself?

In this case, time is of the essence. If you try to influence others before you have satisfied your own reservations, your body language, even your words, will reveal your doubts and you will fail.

It is tempting to think that the key to successful influence is at the bargaining stage, when the person with the most persuasive arguments will win the day. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The real spade work is at the beginning, when you are gathering information, clarifying issues, thinking through the implications and seeking views in order to size up the extent of the challenge. Far better to establish early on where the resistance might come from; at least you still have time to formulate convincing responses. Flushing out the objections, using your network to generate options and constantly reminding yourself of the original reasons and purpose of the proposal are the key activities that will help you build confidence in what you have to do.


8. How do I influence the really difficult people?

The true art of influence lies in the enormous effort that you put into understanding, and then removing, the reasons why they should any longer resist.

If you are getting nowhere in an influencing conversation, is it because you are equally stubborn or do you just not know enough about the cause of the other person’s intransigence? Establish the reason for their resistance by saying, ‘to help me understand what the problem is, can you tell me a bit more about...?’ This demonstrates that you are interested, prepared to listen and genuinely want to find an answer to the problem.

They may also be more forthcoming if you are open about your own motives. Openness will often remove doubts and engender a much more frank discussion. It demonstrates a degree of trust and the other party may conclude that you are not so far apart after all. At least you have made it as easier for them to tell you why they object.

Know when to withdraw. The stalemate may be nothing to do with you. You may just have picked the wrong moment.

If none of the above works, re-consider what you are trying to accomplish:

  • How important is this issue – could you get by without resolving it?
  • Could you achieve it through someone else?
  • Can you go about it in an entirely different way?
  • Who else might be able to help?
  • What else could you do to make the proposition more attractive?


9. How can I be more influential at meetings?

A successful outcome will depend as much on what you do before the meeting as what you do during it, so ahead of the meeting comes the essential research.

  • Who will be there?
  • What views do they hold
  • How close they are to your way of thinking?
  • How they might respond to some gentle lobbying?
  • Who might they listen to other than you?
  • Will a decision be made this time or at a subsequent meeting?

At the meeting, ensure you are placed where it is difficult for you to be ignored – adjacent to the chairperson or at the head of the table maybe. Volunteer to take the minutes. You can seek clarification more legitimately and ask for repetition of what might be a key point in your favour on the pretext of wanting the record to be accurate.

Let others expose their position first. Use your interventions sparingly and then take the initiative, when people are receptive and the timing is right, to present a powerful summing up, taking all views into account and finishing with the ‘obvious’ (your) way forward!

Finally, be careful to avoid slippage after the event. If the decision went your way, ensure that minutes are promptly circulated to this effect. Communicate widely and start the first action point immediately, before any saboteurs can undermine your progress.