So, what really is influence?

I love lively dialogue, learning and sharing…. Sam Rosen wrote a very interesting blog yesterday titled "The Influencer Project: What is influence and why does it matter."

Sam defined influence as "Behaviorally, it involves compelling people to do things, to change, to perform an action they otherwise wouldn’t have. Philosophically, or even spiritually, it involves affecting another person’s, or an entire culture’s, beliefs, values, and ideas of what’s true and false."

I agree to a point, as for me, to compel someone is not influence, it's intimidation and a misuse of power. So what really is influence?

Understanding the Difference between Power, Intimidation, and Influence

To define influence, one must be willing to define power. Discussing power, is often a touchy subject, as power is often labeled "bad." There is nothing wrong with using power when needed. Decision makers are put in the position all the time of having to be the ultimate decision-maker.

For me, influence, is one side of the power coin and intimidation is the other side.  During the lively dialogue, Sam suggested, "…if a gun is to my head, I'm being influenced…." Yes, but I'm also being intimidated, even coerced, at that point.

So where does influence end and intimidation begin?

I define influence as the ability to get support from others to achieve an objective or outcome. Traditionally, the most common ways we influence are:

  • Having a common purpose, goal or understanding (even if the purpose is as one-sided as to change their behavior).
  • Conditional, if you do this I will do that.
  • Fear, which needs no explanation, as this is where the scale tips to intimidation.

I would like to introduce another way: empowering others and showing them that you have complete confidence and trust in them and their capabilities. To be truly influential, you must have taken the time to develop a relationship based on trust and developed permission to be influential. The true power behind influence is developed through relationships built on trust, confidence, and safety.

The differences between influence to achieve an objective and influence to empower others can be overlaid—they are not mutually exclusive.
Each time we walk into the office, others can view us in one of three ways:

  1. Who you are as the position you hold (the power you have).
  2. Who you are as a person (a real human being with feelings).
  3. A combination of the two (the ideal view).

Often our position affords us certain powers, which can be used to intimidate or enhance (influence). For example, the office assistant who withholds critical information or stalls a project past the deadline is using the positional power she holds to coerce or intimidate. The office assistant who serves as a gatekeeper for her boss is using the positional power she hold to influence and enhance the workflow.

By the same token, operating solely from the personal side, we can influence from our feelings and emotions. However, operating solely from here can make it difficult to make decisions — especially, if you want to be sure everyone is going to be okay before moving forward. Strive to stay in number three, the combination of the two (some would call it the balance between heart and head).

So how do we influence others for mutually positive outcomes?

Recognize and remember that people communicate on many levels. Each time we communicate, verbally and non-verbally, we influence our environment and that includes the listener(s) environment.

Verbally, we can use the power of praising what we want more of, look for ways to comment on the nice things, or ask questions to learn more. One of the best questions is: How can I be of service?" or "Is there anything that I can do for you?"  The most trusted and influential people have the mindset of a positive "giver," not a "getter."

Non-verbally, we can influence with expressions, postures and gestures of relationship, teaching and expectation.  Using nonverbal cues and gestures to influence and support your verbal message lets others know that you believe in them and that they can succeed.

Be aware of your own and observe others’ facial expressions, eye contact, posture, hand and feet positioning, torso movement, and even how close or far away they are when they communicate. You want to use your non-verbals for communicating both your feelings and what you’re thinking by knowing:

  • The positive intention of your message.
  • The desired outcome.
  • The context of your message.
  • The content or what you want to say.

I suggest the true use of influence is to not make anyone do anything. It is to provide insight and guidance they might not otherwise have, and if accepted will lead to independence and responsibility in the person choosing to be influenced. No one influences you without your permission.

If you want to read to Sam's whole post, I shortened the URL

So what is influence to you?