Persuasion and influence are essential skills if you run a business – but unfortunately, many of us misunderstand what this means.
In a small study with 100 staff in a manufacturing business, the most common answer to the question: “What does influence or persuasion at work mean to you?”, an overwhelming 76 people answered: “Getting other people to do what I ask.” What this demonstrates is a lack of understanding of both the scope of persuasion and the opportunity for using different influencing strategies. It also illustrates the lamentable fact that most of us are convinced by our own sense of rightness and that our ideas are the best.
The academic research on influencing highlights as many as nine different styles. Most of us have a default style, one we feel most comfortable using. However, to be effective in our influencing, we need to be able to select the most appropriate style and execute it well.
The two most frequently used styles are Push and Pull. Each style is behaviorally distinctive and each is appropriate for different situations. The Push style goes like this:
- I have an idea or opinion that I share with you
- I tell you the reasons why it’s a good idea and/or why I’m correct
- You agree and you move your position.
Behaviourally speaking, Push style is characterized by three specific verbal behaviors:
Proposing Content (suggesting an idea); Giving Information (providing the rationale); and Shutting Out (talking across others). The solution comes from the influencer, and it’s the influencer who does most of the talking.
Push style persuasion is the most commonly used and yet it’s only effective around half the time. Sometimes this is because we are apologetic or aggressive pushers. Another weakness is being a misjudged Pusher, where you reveal your solution early. In so doing, you underestimate the strength of resistance you will encounter. What seems clear and convincing to you fails to shift your audience. You may become frustrated and try another round of blinding your target with logic, either bludgeoning them into submission or leaving the encounter feeling exasperated. Either way, it’s a Win:Lose outcome at best.
Push works well in conditions where the influencer has positional authority. Other situations that call for Push include where you have the expertise, where there’s only one solution, where the decision has already been made, where decisions need to be made quickly and when you can enforce compliance. Yet how often do you adopt a Push style when none of these conditions apply? No surprise then that your attempts at persuasion are less than successful and perhaps have unintended, negative consequences.
Pullers use three behaviors in particular: Seeking Proposals (e.g. How should we best do this?) Seeking Information (e.g. Who has the relevant experience?) and the rare but highly prized skill of Building – extending or developing a proposal made by another person. Building is used much less frequently than is warranted. This is usually because the persuader is much more interested in his own ideas and fails to harness the suggestions of others.
Take Peter for example – a middle manager in a multinational business. He needs to create a new direction for his team. He needs engagement so the Pull style is appropriate:
- Peter asks the team for their ideas
- They offer some options
- Peter then asks questions to explore their suggestions
- Peter builds on their suggestions
- Together, Peter and the team agree a way forward.
In this way, the level of commitment of the team increases in line with their engagement.
Pull style can also be effective when influencing upwards, where resistance is likely to be high when there’s more than one option when there are no time pressures and where any movement is better than none. It’s also useful in fostering collaboration and in coaching others to use their resources. Pull might take a little longer but the rewards outweigh the costs.
If you think back to the last time you tried to influence someone and were unsuccessful, the likelihood is that you opted for the wrong style or perhaps it was the right style executed poorly. To be effective we need to be able to use both styles skilfully. Push and Pull styles of influencing have nothing to do with tone. You can Push in a thoughtful, low-key way and you can Pull in an intense manner. What differentiates each style is the behaviors involved.
Give some thought as to which style to use and why. When you’re operating as a Pusher, be clear about your proposal, give your reasons and explain what’s in it for the other party. As a Puller, lead with questions, exercise your curiosity, believe that other people can have ideas that could be better than yours and work with those ideas, gaining engagement as you go.
Ally Yates is the author of Utter Confidence: How what you say and do influences your effectiveness in business and an expert on Behaviour Analysis and the interactions that define us. She combines a deep understanding of people and how to achieve results, based on her many years’ experience working with large corporate clients around the world. Since 2000, Ally has been working as an independent consultant, facilitator, trainer, and coach. She has collaborated with international business schools and has received national and international training awards.
Ally’s approach is grounded in a sound understanding of theory, trends, and practice in learning and development, business development and leadership development. Clients value her insights, pragmatism, and influence. She is passionate about family, rugby union, travel, and learning.
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