Our first article in the Business Excellence series explored networking, including how it impacts our ability to influence others. And to be effective in organisations today, you must be able to influence people. 

With that said, let’s explore exactly what we mean by influencing and illustrate why it’s such a critical tool for success in modern business. 

What is influencing? 

Influencing is a complex skill set where our behaviour and strategy combine to transform another person’s thought process.  

In the learning and development sector, for example, there are many reasons that we might wish to influence. We may have an innovative learning design concept that we want others to embrace; in which case we should use research data, experience, and confidence to illustrate how this will provide the best learning outcome for the client. We need to make them want it. 

On a larger scale, we may wish to promote a behaviour or mindset change in a person or a group. This is particularly significant in the automotive industry today, with the introduction and rapid advancement of electric vehicles being a key example. 

Regardless of the goal, influencing skills will empower us to persuade, convince and inspire others. But how does it work? 

Key influencing skills 

Essential elements in influencing best practice include active listening, empathy, assertiveness and controlled emotional intelligence. These attributes are crucial because they enable us to communicate clearly, proactively, and fairly whilst developing and nurturing robust relationships. 

Persuading, convincing, and inspiring are significant targets because we can’t expect others to do something, or align with a thought process, that they genuinely disagree with. We can’t expect others to buy-in or embrace something that doesn’t excite or benefit them. 

‘Push’ and ‘Pull’ 

There are two distinct influencing approaches, both of which you will likely recognise. These are the ‘push’ and ‘pull’ strategies; ‘push’ being the hard, forceful, often stressful approach and ‘pull’ being the gentler, more calculated, long-term approach. 

Push strategies have their place and tend to align to more pressing scenarios like emergencies or disciplinary matters, all with mixed results. Pull strategists bide their time and tend to be more successful because they garner valuable long-term support and alignment. 

Influencing in practice 

Push and pull influencing is illustrated well in Aesop’s classic fable ‘The North Wind and The Sun’. The story opens with the sun and the wind competing to see who is strongest. The challenge? Which of the two can remove a passing traveller’s cloak in the shortest time.  

The wind makes the first attempt. It tries and tries, eventually blowing a gale force with no success. The harder the wind blew, the tighter the traveller gripped their cloak, ensuring that it remained firmly wrapped around their shoulders. 

The wind’s ‘push’ strategy illustrates that every action evokes a reaction. Force promotes force. In this case, the wind’s determination is equalled by the traveller’s powerful will to resist. This is not a win-win situation, this is an impasse. 

The sun then takes its turn. As it shines brightly down on the traveller, the clouds dissipate to reveal a beautiful blue summer sky. Drenched in warmth and comfort, it’s not long before the traveller removes their cloak and carries it under their arm. The sun uses its attributes to pull the traveller’s will towards its goal. 

Force is not typically the most successful approach, less so in the long term. It’s far easier to influence a person to do something when they willingly buy into it. 

This well-loved fable illustrates another, critical, factor in influencing. To impact others, you must understand how to use your strengths to your best advantage.  

What can I do right now? 

Be confident but respect that others will also have a stake in the discussion. We all have different goals. Appreciation and respect for others is key to successful influencing. This is because influencing should benefit all parties. 

People tend to embrace influencers because they are open minded, which further promotes trust and respect. Influencers can be inspiring to deal with because they make things happen. 

Finally, and most importantly, focus on the most essential element in influencing – you.  

Identify, hone, and wield your strengths because the way people perceive you will determine how successfully you influence them. 

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