With business culture moving from “command and control” into more collaborative and cross-functional teams, project leaders now have to be able to manage team members without having any formal authority.
More subtle approaches like influence and adaptability are now needed to move a project forward – but many of those leading projects are not equipped with the required skills to manage up, down, across, or diagonally within organisations.
This often leaves managers frustrated, immobilised and unable to fully execute a project or strategic initiative – something which is especially problematic in today’s increasingly complex business context, where change happens quickly and organisations need to be able to respond immediately.
The good news is that influence and persuasion are business skills that can be taught and sharpened.
By understanding the key principles of persuasion and implementing a few strategic tools, leaders can influence stakeholders at every level of the organisation, avoid internal barriers and move projects along swiftly and successfully.
The Principles of Persuasion
Research has shown that emotion and the way people are treated strongly impact how they make decisions, not just thinking logically and rationally.
According to neurologist Antonio Damasio, how people feel—and how you make them feel—will influence their personal and professional choices.
And the author Dr. Robert Cialdini takes this even further by identifying the universal principles that guide human behaviour, which – when understood and employed ethically – can significantly increase the chances that someone can be persuaded by a request.
Cialdini’s Six Principles of Persuasion
Cialdini’s Six Principles of Persuasion are as follows:
- Reciprocity. People feel obliged to give back to others the form of a behaviour, gift or service that they have received first.
- Scarcity. People have a desire to acquire more of those things they have less of. Or, put another way, people value what they can lose just as much as what they can gain.
- Expertise. People follow the lead of credible, knowledgeable experts.
- Consistency. People like to be consistent with the things they have previously said or done.
- Liking. People prefer to say yes to people they like personally.
- Social proof. People will look to the actions and behaviours of others to determine their own, especially if they are uncertain.
How to Influence Strategically
One popular methodology is the approach by business professors Allen R. Cohen and David L. Bradford. Known as The Cohen-Bradford Model, it is based on the reciprocity principle combined with the idea that all stakeholders should be viewed— and treated—as allies.
Using this model as a foundation, the following step-by-step approach can help line-of-business leaders who need to influence change without being in a position of authority:
Clarify goals and identify priorities. Make sure you are clear on what you want and what you need. Identify your goals and what you are willing to give or give up to achieve your primary objective.
Stand in their shoes—but take off your own first. This step requires you to put aside the goals you identified and look at the scenario from the other person’s point of view.
Too often people try to convince a stakeholder to give them something without looking at how it impacts the other person.
What are their goals? Is what you need going to create conflict or obstacles for this person or their team? What do they have to gain or lose from your request? This is critical for identifying what might trigger a positive response from this person.
Analyse your “currency.” Building a business relationship can be similar to requesting a bank loan or making an investment. Your currency is the leverage you have to influence this person.
Have you helped this person before? What do you have to offer that might be valuable? When is the last time you deposited something into another person’s account?
Evaluate the relationship. Take an honest analysis of your relationship with this person.
Is it balanced? Do you ask for more than you are offering? Have you taken the time and effort to establish mutual trust?
Make the exchange. Ask for what you want and be prepared to offer something of value in return.
This may or may not require some negotiation, but if the above steps are thoughtfully completed, you should be prepared to graciously and respectfully make the scenario mutually beneficial.
Influencing up and down in an organisation has more to do with people than with power. By combining strong personal relationships with the principles of persuasion, project leaders can strategically and effectively use influence to initiate change and ensure desired outcomes.
This skill is necessary now more than ever. In today’s fast-paced and ever-changing business environment, leaders need to be sure they are constantly networking, establishing genuine relationships and building coalitions so that they can be leveraged at any given time.