The Guide to Influence

BU Logo
BetterUp Studios

10 min

A close up of a fence over a freeway with influence written on it

What is influence?

You know you’ve got a killer idea, but how do you get others to support your vision? Influence is vital to finding success in our increasingly interconnected world. It means working to alter, inspire or change another person’s thoughts, emotions, or behavior. We influence each other through our actions, our ability to lead by example, our relationships with others, our professional expertise, and our understanding of conscious persuasion.

Why does it matter (according to research)?

  • Builds trust. “Soft” tactics get better results. When approached skillfully, influence strategies support positive relationships. Keep in mind that coercive tactics of influence such as punishment, reward, and persistence may work in the short-term, but they can have detrimental effects on relationships, trust, and the organizational culture in the long-term (Padilla et al., 2007).
  • Cultivates communication. In situations where influence may be a challenge, using a mix of tactics, such as logic and kindness is more effective than relying on a single strategy or shooting straight from the hip (Falbe & Yukl, 1992).
  • Leverages ideas. Cialdini’s (1993) research shows that there is, in fact, a science to influence. There are learnable behaviors that can help you get the outcomes you want.

What are some behaviors associated with a high level of influence?

  • Get others involved, including your dissenters, to gather support for your ideas.
  • Finding the mutual benefit versus ordering someone to do something.
  • Knowing what’s happening in your industry and organization and striving to keep up to date, even with people and aspects that don’t necessarily directly affect you today.

What are some behaviors associated with influence as an area of development?

  • Not taking responsibility or admitting any wrongdoing.
  • Applying pressure or positional authority, which may get the task done but undermines your influence in the long term.
  • Resting on laurels and expecting people will just listen because of your expertise or position.

How can I improve my influence?

  • Be nice. People are more likely to listen to those they like. Helping others creates social capital.
  • Use logic and evidence. Instead of merely assuring people your solution is great, show them how you reached that conclusion.
  • Appeal to values. When you want to persuade someone, think about their values. Consider where they are different from you and the places where your ideas intersect. Use those values as the inspiration for getting them on the same page. (Strive to model those values too.)
  • Take a consultative approach. Seek input from those who are impacted by a course of action. Asking about what’s important to a stakeholder and then tying our ideas to that, is one of the most effective strategies we can use to get people onboard.
  • Know yourself. What are your primary sources of power in any given situation? You can only expect to influence behavior if you can harness and understand your power currency.

Featured Research

Robert Cialdini, Professor of Psychology and noted author of The Power of Persuasion.
Jeffrey Pfeffer, Professor of Organizational Behavior and influential author of Power.

quote image
The more effort that goes into a commitment, the greater is its ability to influence the attitudes of the person who made it.
- Robert Cialdini
BetterUp Studios
BetterUp Studios creates and curates research-backed content, activities, and tools to help people everywhere pursue their lives with greater clarity, purpose, and passion.

Recommended Resources

Card image cap

Coaching for Beginners

Career development can help you achieve goals that you didn’t think were possible. In this article, learn techniques to help you make the most out of your growth experience.

5 min

Card image cap

Passion Makes Perfect

Use this activity to help you articulate where your passion lives and thrives so that you can motivate yourself and others.

7 min