The ability to effectively influence people is a key competency for HR professionals and a skill that can make a real difference to your effectiveness in your role.
It filters into all aspects of the job, whether it’s persuading the board to support your latest employee engagement initiative, getting line managers on your side with a new HR software system, or dealing with an employee who is digging their heels in and resisting change.
The best influencers are those who can draw on a variety of techniques and approaches, adapting their style to suit the audience and the situation. So, what are the main influencing styles – and how can you use them?
Advocating vs uniting (push-pull)
According to the Influence Style Indicator (ISI), there are two key orientations of influencing others. Advocating (push) is when the influencer uses logic and reason to convince others to move or see from one point of view to another. On the other hand, uniting (pull) is the act of encouraging others with a sense of shared goals or mission by displaying the great possibilities should they shift to a different point of view.
There are five distinct styles that fit in a spectrum within these two orientations: asserting, rationalising, negotiating, inspiring and bridging.
This approach comes into play often when safety or security is at risk, and you need quick compliance. It’s about being straightforward, telling it like it is and making sure everyone is clear about what needs to be done, by when and how. This highly assertive style of influencing works well if you are the ‘expert’ — and requires authority and high levels of credibility in the business.
If your role encompasses health and safety, for example, you would want to be direct about the need for employees to follow certain processes or to wear the correct protective clothing. Or, if a disciplinary issue was about to emerge, you would want to be clear with the line manager involved about the need to follow the company’s procedure to the letter.
It’s important to think carefully about when it is and is not appropriate to adopt this approach. Over-used, it can come across as arrogant and dictatorial, and although people may do what you say, you won’t necessarily have won them over to your way of thinking.
Rationalising is about coming up with the pros and cons, the facts and figures and the rational, logical argument to support your case. If you needed to persuade the board to approve the budget for a new HR system, for example, your chances of success would be greatly improved if you:
- research the market for prices and features
- demonstrate knowledge of the different types of systems available
- explain why you are recommending one particular supplier over another
- give a clear idea of what the return on investment will be.
But when using this approach, it’s important to recognise that people draw on their emotions, too, when it comes to making decisions. Facts and figures are not always enough on their own to win the day – there is a danger that if you rely solely on the data and overlook what people may actually be feeling, your attempts could fall flat.
This approach is a balance between advocating and uniting and is about finding the compromise. Compromise is about meeting the other party halfway and requires a combination of logical and emotive reasoning.
The ‘negotiating’ style is crucial for situations where you act as a mediator, dealing with facts and feelings, for example:
- Handling employee complaints or conflicts
- Assisting with redundancy or reorganisation processes
- Negotiating salary or benefits with employees
- Attending disciplinary hearings
The goal (and most difficult challenge) of this approach is to get as close to a win-win situation for everyone as possible. It’s important the people involved come away from such discussions feeling that the issue has been solved fairly.
The inspirational approach is for whipping up enthusiasm. It’s about sharing your vision of what the future might look like. It’s helpful to tell stories that demonstrate the new behaviours you want to encourage to create a sense of energy around whatever project you are trying to drive through.
‘Inspiring’ would work well if you were trying to shift the culture in the business to a more entrepreneurial or innovative approach to work. Or maybe the organisation wants to move to a coaching culture and needs managers to understand how this can help them achieve better results. Don’t forget, however, that some people need the detail as well as the big picture, and as the initiative progresses, you may need to move to one of the other influencing styles.
Bridging is a more collaborative, participative approach to influencing, and works well when you want to win hearts and minds. It’s about asking questions, listening, finding common ground and bringing people together to get the best possible outcome or result.
If there are plans to restructure a department or make a major change to the way work is done, collaboration is a great way to get people on board, making them feel involved, and overcoming their natural apprehension about the impact the changes may have on their roles.
These open conversations can also help to generate new insights and ideas that will assist you in shaping any planned restructure to give it the best chance of success. ‘Bridging’ should of course be genuine in its intent – people will soon see through it if you are only paying lip service to get them involved. You may also struggle in a very hierarchical, top-down organisation or in cultures where people aren’t used to being asked for their opinions.
Recognising that influencing is a process, not a one-off event, and that you will need to adapt your style as you go is the key to success. Make sure you don’t fall into the trap of only using the style that you feel most comfortable with.