Four facets of influence
by Victoria Mikhailova
In organizations, your position in the hierarchy plays an important role, but there are other levers you can use to bring your audience over towards your opinion without imposing it or pushing your authority.
We all must have met some people who are modest and not very talkative but who managed to make an impact on us. People who know how to persuade without talking. Influence is not about monopolizing the talking. Influence is about controlling the situation and understanding the roles played by hierarchical power (or positional power), emotions, experience, non-verbal cues, and human aspirations. To succeed as a leader, one must master these four facets of influence.
Let’s begin by looking at positional power. If you have power, your influence is a natural part of it. The person with power often tends to talk more, interrupting others and directing the course of the conversation by choosing its direction and topic.
If you don’t have the positional power, expect to have less opportunity to speak, interrupt others, and choose the topic of conversation. Indeed, in this kind of a situation, having the prerogative to lead the discussion allows those in power to increase their influence.
So what can be done to challenge such power? Maybe you have a product, idea or business that you want to sell and you have won a potential buyer’s attention. How do you get in control of communication?
Take advantage of the second leverage in communication – emotions. Using emotions is one of the ways to counter positional power and generally get the lead of the conversation. When your opponent has power and you have emotional assertiveness, you can have more or less of a parity. Also, when you keep the parity and the speaker is prepared well, passion can get the upper hand of authority. We’ve all seen the way a young amateur can disarm and win the judges at a talent show, crushing other contestants by their rhetoric. The purity and power of emotion is enough to silence the judges – to touch their souls and make them abandon the power they wield. A heated speech, pleading for clemency, tear-jerking address to the jury that turns the trial upside down have all been depicted in Hollywood movies quite perfectly.
Passion is often linked to expertise, which is the third lever of influence. You’ll really be able to lead the discussion and overcome
positional power if you demonstrate that you are engaged in the matter and knowledgeable at the same time. The voice of a dissident expert is sometimes lost in the shouting of passionate talkers. Without enthusiasm, experience and knowledge are not always effective, unless you can demonstrate patience and assert yourself by getting the last word in a debate.
The last aspect of influence is the most subtle of the four. In fact, rarely does it happen that one can get the upper hand over power or passion using this tool alone. However, it could prove decisive. What is it all about? It’s about the mastery of human interaction ballet.
We may fail to understand the mechanisms of this leverage well, but we all use it more or less skillfully. Early on in our lives, we learn that conversation is a pas de deux, a play involving two (or more) people that includes not only talking but also breathing, blinking, and head movements. The gaze, the body language, and a number of subtle non-verbal cues that contribute to communication between people...
Indeed, any conversation becomes much less productive without these non-verbal cues. That’s why talking over the phone is never as satisfying as face-to-face meetings. This is the reason why conference calls often end in a series of interruptions, misinterpretations, and cross-talks. When we lose the non-verbal cues that we are all used to and that let us see if our conversation partner is willing to allow us to lead the talking and vice versa, we go on the defensive or withdraw from the relationship.
Is it possible to exert influence using only this fourth lever? I have seen it work in a number of occasions, in certain situations where the other three aspects helped to achieve results as well. Nevertheless, I once saw a top executive managing to effortlessly influence a crucial decision made by a group of people the same level and age as himself, experts in their field, gathering from all over the world to discuss the future of the industry. In just a few minutes, everybody present accepted his point of view, even though he formally had no authority over them and was not known to be an expert in the subject matter. His skill at using subtle conversational cues was absolutely superb, and he effortlessly set his tempo for the entire gathering. It was nice to see how skillful he was when showing his mastery of the talking game.
Thus, influence lies in the ability to analyze how the participants are engaged in the discussion. And most of us have this subconscious ability. But to use it successfully, you must master at least one more of the four aspects described above, or all of them, if possible.
Consultant and coach on strategy, leadership, partnership. Process Communication Model and Emotional Assertiveness Master Trainer, French Foreign Trade Advisor, EO member. Lecturer at HEC Paris & Moscow School of Management Skolkovo. Sensemakers Co-Founder & Director