How to influence others

Friday 29 January 2016
Strong leaders can inspire and empower, find out how that can be you: the latest in a series leading up to the announcement of the 2016 management book of the year

By 2016 CMI Management Book of the Year shortlisted author Stuart DuffStrong leaders inspire others to achieve ambitious goals through a combination of communication, influencing and engagement skills. They know that people are their most valuable resource and will do their utmost to secure and retain the commitment of their teams.

In an extract from our People Leadership book below, we consider a range of styles that you can use to influence your colleagues and achieve business growth.


Most of us would consider ourselves to be reasonably shrewd and not easily coerced into doing something against our will. However, much of the research into obedience and authority has shown that we are very susceptible to influence from respected figures.

This was clearly shown in a classic experiment by Stanley Milgram in the 1960s. Unwitting participants were brought into a laboratory setting and told that they were taking part in a study aiming to enhance memory. The person overseeing the experiment was wearing a white coat – a clear symbol of authority at the time.

Participants were instructed to question a fellow participant (who was behind a screen) and, upon an incorrect answer, to deliver an electric shock. With each incorrect answer, participants were told to increase the voltage – ranging from ‘slight shock’ to ‘DANGER: XXX’. What the participants didn’t know was that the people receiving the shocks were actually actors and the shocks were not real.

Shockingly, 65% of the participants went as far as delivering the ‘DANGER: XXX’ shocks when encouraged to do so, even after the actors had complained of heart difficulties and stopped responding to questions.

This study and subsequent similar studies demonstrate the impact that social influence can have. Despite holding independent and rational views, many people feel obliged to be obedient when instructed by an authority figure.


There are mixed feelings about the subject of influence. When we describe someone as ‘influential’ we do so in ways that suggest respect, admiration, and even deference. At the same time, however, we’re disparaging or suspicious when we recognise attempts to influence us – by politicians, advertisers, friends or even family.

Therefore, is it something we’d all like to be able to do – but only if no one realises we’re doing it?

We weren’t always so coy. There’s a whole industry of self-help books advising parents on how to withstand the ruthless influencing skills of babies and young children. You might remember some of your own tactics that you probably wish you could use in the office: refusal to cooperate, blackmail, bargaining or – when all else fails – yelling.

So, we’re all about influencing and being influenced, it’s just that as adults we behave more artfully.

We’ve finessed our earlier tactics to work better on peers and superiors using reasoned resistance, negotiation and more respectable forms of perseverance and tenacity.


You need a strategy that will work best for you, according to your personality, but there are some essentials to remember – whichever style you use:

  • Rapport is essential. Developing a sense of likeability and trust with the person you’re trying to influence will always put you in a better position.
  • Listen to other people’s points of view and try to put yourself in their shoes.
  • Identify any common goals and common points of view or ideas.
  • Present your ideas as a suggestion, rather than a proposal. This way, people are more likely to build on your idea, or see it as being flexible, which is positive.
  • Make sure you have people’s full attention.
  • Emphasise why your suggestion is important (particularly where it links to common goals you have already identified).

Knowing how, when and where to use each of these strategies is key to successful influencing. Look for opportunities to practise using the strategies you least favour in order to develop a range of skills that you can use in different situations.


Below are six styles of influencing behaviour. People tend to use one or more of these styles in any given situation.

Bystanders are unlikely to use any influencing strategies. They are unlikely to make use of a network of colleagues and may be in a purely operational role, with few or no responsibilities outside of their own workloads. Additionally, they have low access to key resources and low expectations about their ability to influence others.

Shotguns are the opposite of bystanders; they are likely to use every kind of influencing strategy regularly. Shotguns are likely to have a workload that requires them to work through a large network of people and have a lasting effect on them. This is often due to their having great responsibility or accountability and the need to derive resources from many people.

Strategists are likely to use the influencing strategies of ‘reason’, ‘assertion’ and, less often, ‘partnership’. They have a high expectation of being able to influence, mainly due to their previous experience in similar situations. Additionally, they tend to be very independent and not overly concerned with the needs of others.

Opportunists are more prone to using ‘courting favour’, ‘exchange’ and ‘coercion’. They tend to have a low expectation of the level of influence they are able to have, based on previous experience. They are dependent on others to help them.

Collaborators use ‘exchange’, ‘courting favour’, ‘reason’ and ‘partnership’ as their most common strategies. They are aware of and act according to the needs of others due to the need to maintain cooperative relationships. There is generally little need to maintain and/or improve the behaviour or productivity of others.

Battlers will generally rely on ‘assertion’ or ‘coercion’ to influence others. They normally use these strategies because they need to drive change in people’s behaviour and productivity due to having a large strategic role. They normally do not need to make goodwill gestures or be overly aware of the feelings of others.


Here is some advice about how to remember and try out what we’ve covered in this article:

  • Look for opportunities to practise
  • Observe other people
  • Talk to a role model
  • Write a development plan
  • Get feedback on your influencing style
  • Set a future date to review your progress

iLEAD by Stuart Duff is shortlisted in the Management and Leadership Textbook category of the 2016 CMI Management Book of the Year, in association with the British Library and sponsored by Henley Business School