How To Influence Others

There’s no debating that positional power is useful because with status comes power. If someone has the authority to promote you, give you a raise or restructure you out of your job, it is likely that you are going to be responsive to their needs. The law of the jungle doesn’t feel very fair but it is probably here to stay.

Positional power does have its limits though. For one, as a leader, you only have that power for as long as you’re in the post. And positional power can often be a block to the valuable creative and critical contribution of the wider team. Leaders often sacrifice excellence for expedience and control by not being open enough to the ideas and influence of those whom they lead. Another shortcoming of positional power is that it doesn’t always allow us to influence people beyond the confines of our own organisation.

Personal power is a counterbalance for the shortcomings of positional power and because it is available to everyone and lacks the coercive element that positional power carries, personal power is better understood as influence. There are three key, interrelated things that determine how much personal power we wield. Our relationships, our communication ability and our expertise.

Above all else, it is the quality of our relationships that determines our personal power. Not just our relationships with the colleagues who work most closely to us on a day to day basis, but our relationships with people across departments and locations, and with people above us and beneath us in the organisational hierarchy.

To maximise personal power in your workplace, build a broad relationship base there. Spend time getting to know people whose paths you might not naturally cross. In particular, find out their values and who they are as individuals. What is their communication style and what are their drivers and motivations for work? If you know what they hope to be doing in five year’s time, you’ve done a good job of getting to know them.

To build these kinds of relationships takes some investment. For one it takes time – your most valuable resource – and secondly it requires you to break out of the comfortable social cliques that naturally form around us and spend time with people whom you might feel less of a natural affinity with. But as an investment it gives a big pay off in terms of your influence, not only because it builds trust and respect, but also because it gives you expertise. This broad relationship base will give you unrivalled insight into your organisation, its challenges and its strengths, as played out by the people in it.

An important aspect of relationship building is also getting to know influential people before you need them, and the best way to do this is to network. A good tip for networking is to start where you are. Look to the people you already know who could introduce you to influential people i.e. people with with positional power, personal power or both. Be strategic about it. Who do people go to for guidance? Who seems to make things happen in your organisation or sector? And just as importantly, ask who habitually creates obstacles to new ideas and resists change? You can find all this out through the informal chats you have with people while you are building your broader relationship base.

Also worth noting is that certain people are like gatekeepers to a whole load of other people and wider networks. If you spot someone who is super-connected and networked in this way, make relationship building with them a priority. Check social media to read up on what’s on their radar, have a coffee, go for lunch, ask for their input. Asking for others’ input and taking a collaborative approach is vital as people are more likely to back ideas they have already contributed to.

Worth a mention here also is that shyness is the enemy of this sort of relationship building. Most of us secretly feel we could use more social confidence and falter when it comes to making an approach. A nice trick to help overcome this sort of apprehension is to do a brainstorm of what would make you dislike a person who approached you, and modelling the reverse of the qualities you come up with.

Being well networked goes a long way in upping your personal power but it’s not enough by itself. You also need to be credible. No point getting to know one hundred and fourteen people across and between organisations if all one hundred and fourteen of those people think that you are an idiot. To have influence you have to spend time listening keenly to other people to draw on what they know. Talk to experts, test assumptions. Do your homework. Engage with critical thought. If there are prevailing beliefs in your sector, or entrenched processes, gently scrutinise them. Ask why?

Just as importantly, ask others to play devil’s advocate and pick at the corners of the ideas that you bring, to help you to refine your own perspectives. You can then anticipate objections and be ready to counter them. If you can get other people thinking and demonstrate that you are a thinker, then you’re bringing something valuable to the table that will be taken seriously by others.

However extensive your expertise is though, it will be impotent if you don’t know how to communicate it well. Knowing how to adjust your communication style and pitch to your audience isn’t really that hard if you brush up on your presentation skills and take the time to learn where the person you seek to influence’s priorities lie. And rightly or wrongly, it is the emotional arguments that win the day. Not as in shout and cry at the people you seek to persuade, but make them care. You win the emotional argument by knowing what people care about and presenting that thing as being at stake. If you don’t know what someone cares about, then you have more listening to do. This is why you shouldn’t try to exert influence prematurely, always do the groundwork first so you can pitch it right.

And demonstrate how much you care, too. People are unlikely to buy into something if you don’t appear to be100% bought in to it yourself. If you make proposals in a lukewarm way, you’ll get a lukewarm response – at best. Enthusiasm is contagious. If you keep the ‘why’ alive for yourself, that energy and sincerity will come across and get a positive response.

Regardless of your role at work, there’s power and influence just waiting to be grasped by you. So do a little audit of your personal power and before you leave this blog behind, write down the name of three people you could go for a coffee with either in or beyond your organisation. These people could be anyone you don’t yet know or know well, people who could give you some useful advice, share their own perspectives or experience about something or simply reveal to you a little more about who they are. Then email the first one today.

If you want to hear more about the resilience training we offer, start by watching our one minute video here, it will give you a preview of what our Resilience training explores. Any questions? You can click here to contact us.



The Harvard Business Review article:  “Don’t Waste Your Time on Networking Events” got a lot of attention because I think it struck a chord with so many people. We all know that a bit like many team meetings, networking events can be a colossal waste of time.

Attending networking event after networking event and having very little to show for it is a classic ‘Busy Fool’ manoeuvre that we should all watch out to avoid.

Why do we so often fall in to this ineffectual networking trap? I think there’s two main reasons: one reason is the short-term, illusory sense of achievement it gives us. That gratifying sense of ticking a task of the list but failing to question the task’s actual value. In other words, we mistake activity for output. The second reason is we simply lack the skills to make the networking event worth our while.

Successful networking is about growing relationships with people worth knowing and fortunately there are some straight forward strategies that can help us to do just that. Here are six to consider:

1. Do your homework

If you can, check who else is going and decide who in particular you’d like to meet. Once you have set your sights on a few people, do a bit of internet stalking – check their LinkedIn and Twitter feed to see what connections and common interests you have, and what’s on their mind. Knowing where the common ground lies will make having a good conversation a lot easier. It also makes us more likeable. Research suggests we have a preference for people whom we perceive to be similar to ourselves in some way, so discovering and focusing our attention on commonalities is a great strategy.

2.  Pretend you’re a detective

Every hear the expression ‘Interesting people are interested people.’? You already know everything there is to know about yourself, so don’t waste your valuable networking time talking about Numero Uno if you can help it. You’ll learn nothing and impress no-one. Do have a short, powerful introduction about what you do (NB Under 15 seconds, and not just your job title but something memorable about what your work actually involves / achieves). Beyond that though, focus on learning about others rather than talking about yourself. Demonstrate your interest in others by actively listening to them, using open-ended follow up questions (i.e. what, why, how questions). Studies show being a good listener will make you more likeable, and being likeable lies at the heart of being an excellent networker who gets good connections and leads wherever they go.

3. Ask not what this person can do for you. 

A common mentality to networking is ‘What’s in it for me?’ and there are a two main reasons why this can be problematic. First of all, it can be difficult to tell whether or not a person will be useful to know on first meeting them. Opportunities usually emerge further down the line when you have built up a bit of a relationship and some trust, and not on the day that you meet. Second of all, the ‘What’s in it for me?’ mind-set is so unappealing that when we detect it in others – and we can usually sniff it a mile off – there’s a good chance it will alienate us and make us wary of them, rather than form the foundation of a productive connection. So the antidote is to flip the thinking on its head and ask ‘What’s in it for them?’ Ask yourself why getting to know and staying in touch with you will be beneficial to the other person? What information, contacts or encouragement do you bring? Work this part of the equation out and the the ‘What’s in it for you’ side will take care of itself.

4. Lever body language

Numerous scientific studies all say the same thing about this: your body language speaks loud and clear and leaves a lasting impression on others whether you are aware of it or not. So always begin with a handshake, remember to smile and keep good eye contact, and to absolutely maximize your likeability factor, be sure to nod a lot.

5. Have fun

A recent ComRes poll shows the majority of people feel uncomfortable while networking. To get good at it you have to find a way of making it enjoyable. The obvious answer to many, but not really the best approach, is to down plenty of Dutch courage if there happens to booze to hand. I mean what could possibly go wrong? A safer strategy is to ‘Gamify’ it. Make a points system, for example 5 points for every handshake. 10 for every LinkedIn connection afterwards, 25 for every enjoyable conversation you have. You can even think of some obscure and amusing vocabulary that you get points for skilfully slipping into conversations. The possibilities are endless. Then if you go in with a target in mind, say to score over 200 points by the end of the event, you will find yourself fully engaged. It’s even a funny conversational gambit – telling others at the event what you’re up to, about your ‘game’.

6. Keep in touch

Afterwards take a few notes on the professional interests of the people you meet and any personal information relevant for rapport building – for example if they’re going sailing in the Greek Islands that summer, jot that down. Anything in particular you bonded over at the event, write that down too. Then follow people up within 3 days to say ‘Great to have met you, let’s stay in touch’ and after that remember to share interesting, funny or useful stuff with them at least 2 or 3 times a year, with a friendly message checking in with them. And schedule these contacts, or else they won’t happen. With a rapidly growing network you’ll probably need a reminder system to keep it ticking over.

So back to the question this blog began with: are networking events worth it? Simple answer is yes, if you are any good at networking. The good news is, anyone can learn to be.

If you want to hear more about the resilience training we offer, start by watching our one minute video here, it will give you a preview of what our Resilience training explores. Any questions? You can click here to contact us.