When dealing with the complexities of myriad personalities from ground to board level, attempting to implement strategy and policies, championing initiatives, managing conflict and motivating employees, influence is surely the crème de la crème of skills; if people are HR’s resource then influence is the resource of HR’s. But achieving influence is a delicate tightrope walk of precision and accuracy, lean too much one way and you veer to coercion and manipulation, veer to the opposite side and weakness and inefficiency await.

Influence comes in effecting a change to opinions, attitudes and behaviours using your interpersonal skills. Those that are good at influencing are generally people with excellent social skills, they can communicate their thoughts, ascertain others’ thoughts, negotiate and explain with listening being a key element. When this is lacking, and the influencer’s aim is only to speak and not listen, any change in the influenced will be short-term and reluctant, with the seeds of discontent liberally sowed.  Strong influencers will also be assertive and confident, but will temper this with adaptability and empathy, changing their approach to suit the situation and building in an understanding of the needs of others. An influencer who is blinkered to their own outcome alone will almost certainly fall to the coercive and manipulative side.

Influencers tend to plump for one of two methods to achieve their goal; the first is centred in social learning theory and exemplification which in short is the influencer setting an example to the influenced, they might exhibit that they work late and therefore subtly influence others to do the same. The second comes through social exchange theory and supplication, generally in the form of an entreaty from the influencer for assistance from the influenced, perhaps through a professed lack of knowledge or time to complete a task. Implicit in this type of influence is the idea of ‘favours’ and exchanges, a ‘you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours mentality’.

Exemplifiers, due to their strong work ethic and positive workplace behaviours, are likely to be well respected with high regard for their opinion and thus can utilise tactics such as rational persuasion, setting out arguments and plans clearly and objectively. Their respect for others means that they are more likely to take others’ feelings into account too, modifying plans as necessary. With the requisite balance, this type of influence can work well. Supplicating influencers, who are likely to feel less secure in their roles perhaps through lack of experience or knowledge, may use ingratiation or coalition to obtain influence; they may flatter the influenced into doing what they want or recruit others to support them in their opinions. The obvious danger here comes in fatigue of the influenced and negative perceptions being formed of the influencer.

People are more open to influence from those that they respect, and when exposed to influencing type behaviours that they deem to be acceptable. For the influencer this means developing a reputable work persona and image, giving respect to others and receiving it in return, and when influence is required, picking a method that is fair to all. Exemplifiers, through their willingness to pitch in and likely methods, will almost certainly be more successful longer term, with employees, colleagues and superiors appreciating their approach. But when balanced on the influence tightrope, no method is fool-proof; when working with a resource as mercurial as people can be, let adaptability, understanding and empathy be your pole.