Why Influence Trumps Persuasion


As a leader, there will be times when you’ll need to change someone’s behavior or mindset. If you’re like most of us, your instinct will be to put your powers of persuasion to work, to come up with all the best arguments to sway the person.

Persuasion, which relies on logic and wit, is an important skill for leaders to develop. But it’s not usually the best approach when your goal is lasting change.

Here’s why: Persuasion is about exerting pressure from the outside. It’s something that’s done to the person. Because there’s little personal ownership of the change, the change is often only temporary at best as the person eventually reverts back to old habits and behaviors.

Influence, on the other hand, is a different story.

With influence, the pressure comes from inside the person changing. Influence relies on discernment and discovery. It’s much more ambiguous, intuitive and focused on others—and for those very reasons, we tend to default to persuasion. It’s the traditional, “easier” path.

But for sustained change, influence is the better choice.

In essence, when you influence someone, you’re not convincing them of what they should do; they’re convincing themselves.

Or to put it in terms my dog reminds me of every day: Persuasion is trying to catch a puppy. Influence is running from a puppy so it will catch you.

Jumping dog

Here are five steps for leading with influence to get change that lasts:

1. Question. The most sophisticated form of verbal communication is the ability to prompt someone to change by the questions we ask. Influencing questions do more than uncover someone’s perspective; they provoke new perspectives, without making the person feel we are leading them to the conclusion.

2. Model. Demonstrating what “changed” looks like and the difference it’s making inspires followers. We influence when we show the way and the why.

3. Endorse. Testifying to change we’ve experienced and the accrued benefits is a compelling witness. Enthusiasm is contagious.

4. Find Advocates. Savvy marketers know we tend to place more value on the opinions of our friends and family than on the company’s advertising and “push messaging,” so they work to build up brand advocates, people we trust who will spread the message. Consider who has the ear of the person or group you are trying to influence and let them be the messengers.

5. Restructure. Like rocks in a stream, adding or subtracting barriers redirects the path of least resistance. Influence is about leverage. Adjusting course will often lead the person to the change.

Sure, sometimes I’ll catch the puppy when I chase him. But rarely can he resist the temptation to “follow the leader”!

How could you drive more sustainable change by influencing rather than persuading?

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4 Comments

  • Rick Kaufman
    May 14, 2014 at 6:44 pm

    Great post Matt! This definitely lays out the case for influencing change the right (and lasting) way. My first thought while reading it was that I’m not the manager but then obviously I realized that no matter what my position is I’m always able to lead via influencing those around me.

    • normanblogger
      May 14, 2014 at 9:01 pm

      Thanks Rick! My wife and I were just talking about how we should be applying these concepts with our kids right now. I suppose we’re all managers of people in different ways!

  • Bryce Kramm
    May 16, 2014 at 5:08 am

    Thanks for sharing this, Matt! I especially enjoyed reading number four. Similar to employee engagement, developing brand advocacy cannot be mandated but it can be ignited. As technology and social media continues to evolve, transform the sales process and empower consumers, our ability to connect and influence others creates significant opportunities and risks for businesses.

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