Influence is something that comes into many different areas of our lives, and most of the time we aren’t even aware of it. Everything from the purchases we make to the people we look up to at work is a product of influence, and the ability to influence others ourselves can be very useful in a wide variety of situations.
But this ability isn’t an individual skill in itself. Negotiating and influencing skills are actually a whole range of different attributes and abilities, some of which are easy to adopt and some of which will take time to master.
If you’ve been wondering how to be more influential, either in the workplace or in the rest of your life, this article covers what good influencing skills are and how best to use them.
Influencing is defined as the process by which an individual is able to change or affect the opinions of other people. If someone is described as having influence then it usually means that their attitudes and ideas are respected and supported by other people and that they often get the outcomes they want from situations.
There is a difference between influencing and direct persuasion, as influencing people is more about expressing your own point of view in a way that inspires others to adopt the same mindset, whereas persuasion is more about arguing and pushing someone else to change their mind. Influencing usually works by behaving in a way that others recognise and respect, instead of actively going out and sharing your opinions to cause others to alter theirs.
In the workplace, influencing strategies usually involve getting employees to change their behaviour by setting a model example and either directly or indirectly encouraging them to follow. Influencing others may also be a part of business deals, client conversations and implementing changes in how a business is run.
Influencing is also present in many other aspects of our lives. We may have friends or family members who we are particularly influenced by, ‘influencer’ has become the job title of those who have a particularly prominent following and presence across different social media platforms, and most people’s political views and alignments are dictated or affected by influence.
The ability to influence is often a skill that is attributed to leaders and those in a position of power, but it is pretty easy for anyone to learn influencing techniques and skills in order to give off a positive impression and get other people to look up to them. This is a very beneficial skill to have in a professional sense, particularly in roles like team leader, mentor or consultant.
Influencing skills combine many of the aspects required in good communication, negotiation and persuasion. Many different skills will positively impact your ability to influence others, the most important of which are detailed below.
This one is pretty self-explanatory. If you want to be viewed as an influential presence then you’ll need strong leadership skills so that people look up to you and trust you to take charge of and lead situations.
Being a good leader will also mean that you are confident and capable in group settings where you need to take charge, allowing you to share your opinions clearly and assertively. Leaders tend to be viewed as influential because of the authority that comes with the role, so if you are happy taking on leadership positions then you are likely to become more of an influential presence.
Having good influencing skills is not about just ramming your opinions down other people’s throats and forcing them to agree with you. It also requires a lot of reflection and observation that will allow you to appropriately gauge situations and moods and judge how well your ideas are likely to be received.
Having good observation skills is an important part of successful influencing strategies as it means that you have paid attention to a situation or a group dynamic and can be more confident about whether you can successfully influence those around you.
Communication is perhaps the most important influencing skill. You’re not going to be able to share your ideas and opinions with others in a way that encourages them to follow and support you if you can’t clearly and confidently communicate.
Having good communication skills involves being articulate, taking your time to speak, preparing what you are going to say beforehand and also being a good listener when you’re engaged in conversation with others. This last point is particularly important, as people are less likely to be influenced if they feel you are not taking time to listen and consider what they have to say as well.
Being an influential leader or thinker involves being committed to your ideas and beliefs. If other people see that you strongly believe in something then they are much more likely to follow you or at least consider adopting your point of view, as they’ll be inspired by your conviction and dedication to your cause.
If you’re trying to be more influential then it’s important to be passionate about the things you care about and show commitment to the causes and ideas you think are important. You should be receptive to other opinions without wavering on your beliefs; people will respect and be more convinced by what you have to say.
A key skill that is good for influencing is self-confidence, for many of the same reasons as commitment is important. Someone who appears to be hesitant and unsure will have much less of an impact than someone who is clearly confident in themselves and their ideas, so if you’re trying to have more of an influence then this is a key attribute to develop.
Many people admire confidence and look up to people who actively demonstrate it, so you’ll have much more impact if you’re clearly content and secure in what you say, do and think.
Having the ability to influence is not all about blazing forward with your ideas and expecting other people to follow you; it’s also about working and communicating with others in a way that makes them want to follow your lead. Having active listening skills is a big part of this, as you’ll have much more productive conversations if you actively listen and will also establish yourself as someone who cares about listening to others and acknowledging what they have to say.
The best influencers are those who can read situations and decide what action is best depending on who is involved and what the context is. You should be confident in trusting your intuition about how people might behave and how well your ideas might be received and also know when it is best to let something drop.
Being good at feedback as a good influencing skill goes two ways. First, if you’re in a team leader or mentor position and want to influence others, being able to give helpful and productive feedback will help you to stand out as someone to listen to and follow as well as someone to come to if advice is needed.
Secondly, being able to receive and respond to feedback constructively and positively is also an important part of being an influential person, as it will help you to understand your strengths and weaknesses and get a better idea of the impact you have on others.
Credibility is a skill that is more important if you’re developing your workplace influencing skills, as proposing new ideas for projects, sharing your opinions on progress and promoting services or products to clients and customers will all be more successful when they are backed up with evidence.
If you are trying to influence others to adopt a certain opinion or agree to a certain idea or project direction, make sure that your reasoning is credible. Having data to back up your points is very beneficial, as long as the data is also from a credible source.
Finally, another important workplace negotiation and influencing skill is organisational intelligence. People you work with are going to respect and trust you a lot more if you can clearly demonstrate that you understand both the internal and client-facing aspects of a company and can reference both of these factors in your arguments and ideas.
To establish and demonstrate organisational intelligence, ensure that you are networking in your company and industry, have a clear idea of wider business goals as well as your own personal and project targets, and also just make sure you give a good impression to everyone you meet so that people know you as someone polite and well-informed.
There are a variety of different situations where having good influencing skills is important, both professionally and in other contexts. If you’re in a position of leadership then being able to positively influence others in a team and those under your direction is a very useful skill as you can keep morale high and encourage others to go above and beyond.
Having influencing skills can also be important if you’re in a job that involves selling a service or product, as being able to win over potential customers and buyers is very important for business. In a more general sense, influencing skills can also be beneficial as they give you better communication skills and make you more confident and self-assured, as well as helping to get what you want out of conversations.
Improving your ability to influence can be done in a variety of ways, but ultimately comes down to practice. If you want people to pay attention and come round to your point of view then you first need to be very confident in what you’re saying and practice communicating your ideas clearly and assertively. You will also benefit from being self-aware and knowing how best to get your point across, as well as being able to alter your body language and tone of voice to appear as approachable but confident as possible.
People who have a good ability to influence others are also very good listeners and are prepared to engage in conversation and have their opinions debated, so it is useful to have active listening skills and be receptive to questions and suggestions.
Influencing skills have a multitude of benefits and can all individually benefit you, as well as helping to establish you as someone to look up to and follow. Whether you’ve got a specific aim in mind when it comes to influencing others or you would just like to be seen as someone who has strong morals and makes the right decisions, the above skills will all help to build this image and give you the tools you need to negotiate, persuade and inspire the people around you.
If you’d like to find out more about these skills and the benefits they bring, we offer a ‘Personal Professional Development: Influencing, Negotiating and Networking’ online course that covers how to use and develop all of the above.