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Influence is one of those buzzwords that’s often associated with the top echelons of leadership or with a talent for sales or marketing.
No matter what field you work in or how senior your job—entry level, middle management, director, C-suite—you rely on influence to do your job. Naturally if you’re a boss, you’re influencing staff to perform and behave in line with your vision and expectations. But if you’re an entry-level employee—you may not be aware of how much influence you use to teach your colleagues the best ways to communicate and collaborate with you.
Because telling is the quickest way to wield influence, it’s well suited for emergencies and regulations. It’s authority driven, or top-down, meaning it’s usually distributed from higher leadership down through lower positions (from CEO to staff, from manager to direct report, and so on).
Telling may be expedient, but in cases other than those necessary regulations, it’s surprisingly ineffective, as most people do not like being told what to do.
At work, as in life, change—even if we say we want it— is difficult. Selling is a way to get buy-in and support for a new idea or culture shift. Whereas telling stops at a declaration of the what, selling digs into explaining the why (like why this strategy will work or how it’ll benefit everyone) in order to persuade others to get on board and, hopefully, excited. And it can occur from top-down, bottom-up, and laterally.
If you’re trying to make a big decision, you might reach out to a trusted friend for their perspective. But even though your friend may have fantastic advice, you’re ultimately in charge of whether or not to use it. Consulting at work uses the same principle: It’s a collaborative process based on conversation and co-creation, in which one party has the authority to make the final call.
Consultation is a very effective type of influence because it creates a sense of partnership and teamwork, and because one person has the final say, it also doesn’t require everyone to hash things out randomly.
When an old problem persists, a company is thrown a curveball and there’s no precedent for how to handle it, or a team is tackling something new or different, it’s a good time to collaborate. And workers at all levels can exercise their leadership by providing the structure to communally problem solve.
It’s essential to pause and first identify the outcomes you’re looking for. Do you want to get buy-in for your idea? Get a boss to treat you differently? Implement a more effective way for your team to work together? Then, knowing your audience and using the guidelines above, select the right mode or combination to manifest the outcomes you’re looking for.
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