Working with leaders and teams for over twenty years, I have often been asked to address and develop a leader’s or group’s influence skills. In this context, we frame influence as the behaviors one engages to impact the choices and actions of others. This always includes a discussion about the connection between power and influence—something which is often misunderstood. I find that many regard influence as an act of force or coercion—requiring one to have the ability to directly leverage authority and formal organizational or positional power. Others suggest influence should not rely on or leverage that type of power. The truth is that power can be understood and leveraged in many different ways. Your influence style should adapt accordingly.
When discussing these different influencing approaches, I like to use MHS’ Influence Style Indicator (ISI), developed by Discovery Learning International. The ISI measures your preference and attachment to five influence styles—Rationalizing, Asserting, Inspiring, Bridging and Negotiating. Each of these styles engages power in fundamentally different ways. Knowing your own preference, understanding the other styles, and selecting the best style for each situation can help you use the right lever when seeking to influence people, change behavior and impact outcomes. What is your preferred style? Which style do you think will be most effective for your current leadership challenge?
To influence by Rationalizing, you place and see power in the data, in the facts and in the logic of the situation to win the argument. If you are Rationalizing, you would say things like:
“My analysis shows that. . .”
“The experts say. . .”
“The only logical answer is . . .”
“What information do you need to . . .”
People preferring the Rationalizing style tend to want and expect to transact in the facts. They prefer people to have deep knowledge of their subjects, to be objective and dispassionate, and to have done their homework.
The Asserting style pushes, argues and drives forward a given point of view. If you are exercising the Asserting style, power resides in you, and influence requires you to push your ideas, insights or desires onto others. Asserting sounds like:
“That idea is just wrong. . .”
“It is clear that the best way forward is to. . .”
“I’m 100% certain that. . .”
“You have no choice but to. . .”
People preferring the Asserting style expect people to lean into the argument, to come ready for the clash, and to be prepared for the push-back. May the strongest and most tenacious win!
The Inspiring style, like the Asserting style, sees power residing in the individual, but rather than using power to push an idea or viewpoint, you use personal power to pull others toward you—to make a position so attractive that you lure people to you or your point of view. Inspiring can sound like:
“If we could figure this out, imagine what an impact we would have.”
“You’re the best at this I’ve ever seen. Would you be willing to. . .”
“Just think of what this could mean to the future of . . .”
“I want to tell you a story about why I . . . “
Those most attracted to Inspiring look for others to sell them, to shine up their pitch and to present a compelling and attractive case.
If you spend time and effort growing the shared space you have with others, exploring common views, values and opinions, and strengthening your relationships—you are practicing the Bridging style. Bridging assumes that power resides in the relationship and the degree of connection we have between us. Bridging sounds like:
“I understand your dilemma, so can you help me understand why. . .”
“I had this same issue last year, and let me tell you. . .”
“It sounds like the three of us have a common agenda; we should stick together.”
“It sounds like you are saying that you cannot go any further to accommodate us. Will you explain. . .”
People preferring Bridging expect others to acknowledge and engage the shared relationship. They also expect empathy, active listening and a genuine curiosity about both parties’ values and points of view.
If you prefer the Negotiating style, you believe power resides in the ability and willingness to craft a clever and expedient compromise within which everyone may lose something, but within which also stands the chance of mutual satisfaction. Believing power is in the practical and realistic solution, this style draws from Rationalizing (facts and data), Asserting (clear use of voice and drive), Inspiring (drive to pull others toward you), and Bridging (common content and relational ground). Negotiating sounds like:
“Let’s agree to discuss this later when everyone is calmer.”
“I know this is not a long-term solution to all of your needs, but it does provide a path forward.”
“If you will . . . then I can. . .”
“I will support you in the meeting tomorrow and when my project is presented next quarter, . . .”
People preferring the Negotiating style come ready to engage both the content and the relationship. Those preferring Negotiating are often frustrated by the intensity and overly-specific needs of the other approaches, all of which can obscure a good, practical solution within their grasp.