Business General

Influencing People

I have heard the phrase “knowledge is power” (“scientia potentia est” is the original phrase coined in Latin) regularly used throughout my life – at university, in the workplace and even in Hollywood movies.  Never, though, have I felt this phrase to be more appropriate than when applied to behavioural & leadership psychology (or influencing people).

This is simply a body of knowledge that helps you understand how people think to help you become more effective at leadership & negotiation

In The NEF Application Process – Part I, I mentioned how I’d assessed the personalities of some of my group at the NEF assessment centre.  This was in order to improve how I communicated with them in order to be more effective in helping us work as a team.  It was a technique I was taught during my time working in oil & gas and something that I think more people should learn about.

Understanding how people think can help you become more effective at leadership & negotiation

Discussing behavioural psychology techniques can seem slightly awkward because it can imply you have the ability to influence others (i.e., be manipulative).  After all, many techniques aren’t common knowledge.  However, this is not the case – there is no black box of power that can turn you into a hypnotist (well there actually is, but you’ll have to ask Neil Strauss A.K.A. “Style” about that).  The knowledge merely helps you understand how to frame your arguments depending on who you are speaking to in order to give the best chance of conflict prevention.  It can, in fact, be applied to all walks of life.

Let’s say you are feeling slightly unwell, but have promised to meet a friend for dinner.  Your friend has a Reasoning communication style (see below).  Let’s now consider two responses:

  1. Directing style – “I don’t want to go out for dinner anymore.” – Your friend may not understand why you don’t want to go for dinner and may now see you more as someone who doesn’t keep their promises/cannot be counted on
  2. Reasoning style – “I don’t want to go out to dinner anymore because I’m feeling tired and dizzy.” – Your friend will at least now understand why and that there was a circumstance preventing you from keeping your promise to them

When it comes to trying to influence people, you need to be careful.  There is a danger that you may believe an incorrect decision to be correct and try to convince people of this.  I’m pretty sure I’ve been on both ends of this stick, and this has led to issues cropping up later down the line.  It is therefore important to apply your knowledge wisely and be extremely self-aware – you’re not always right.  In fact, you will often be wrong.

Pushing or Pulling?

Influencing and communication styles can be understood in a variety of ways, but the simplest way is Pushing vs. Pulling.  These relate to how we use our mental strength when communicating with others – you can either push others into doing things, or pull them towards working with you.


Without good information, you will make (and convince people of) the wrong decision

The Push style is most effective in situations where you want low ambiguity and need to act relatively quickly.  In order for it to work, you need to have some authority (being captain of a team, for example) and expertise (experience or knowledge about what you are talking about).  Without good information, you will make (and convince people of) the wrong decision.

+ Can lead to clarity and action
– Can create a culture of dependency – people get used to doing what you say and stop thinking for themselves

There are two styles of Push:

Style 1: Directing

The Directing style is authoritative, crisp, direct and clear.  Information is given as a command, order or statement.  In short, you tell people directly what to do, e.g., “I need you to compile a list of our competitors and our strengths and weaknesses against them.”

+ Straight to the point
+ Clear in setting expectations
+ Others know where they stand and what to expect
– Can be perceived as others as impatient/demanding/bossy
– Potential to miss important information
– Will decrease “buy-in” of the project or task

Style 2: Reasoning

If you have substantial knowledge in the area being discussed, this is a very useful approach.  The Reasoning style is factual and analytical; because of this, many engineers and scientists use it without realising in the workplace.  It is also incredibly effective in other situations where you want to justify your actions.  You tell people what to do and why, e.g., “I need you to compile a list of our competitors and their strengths and weaknesses so that we can benchmark our performance against them and plan how we can become the market leader.”

+ Shows clarity in thinking
+ Strong in debates
– Ineffective in emergency/high-pressure situations where the directing style is more appropriate
– Potential to miss important information, leading to wrong decision – especially if you are misinformed
– Will decrease “buy-in” of the project or task


The Pull style is most effective when you need expertise and energy from others, e.g.,  if you need to come up with a novel or innovate way forward.  It can stimulate drive and initiative in your team and help motivate people.

+ Helps pull in more information to make decisions
+ Gets buy-in early on because people feel involved in decision making
– False use (gathering input when the decision has been made) can lead to distrust
– Overuse can imply you are not comfortable making decisions

Similar to Push, there are two Pull styles:

Style 3: Collaborating

The Collaborating style pulls in the opinions and knowledge of others in order to create a decision through empowerment.  It is very inclusive, and useful in a collaborative atmosphere, e.g., “Who do you think our competitors are?  What do you think we do better/worse?  How can we outperform them?

+ Diverse set of information and expertise as input for decisions/projects
+ Makes people feel involved in decision making
– Can lead to confusion on issues that could be much simpler
– Often slow to achieve outcomes

Style 4: Visioning

This is known as the “Steve Jobs” management style.  It involves setting the vision and being motivational in order to gather energy from the group.  This sort of style is quite important in early-stage start-ups or companies undergoing periods of change.  When applied to  “In one year, we need to be the market leader.  What happens if we try and deliver X?  If we can deliver Y better than our competitors, we will be able to achieve Z.  Imagine a team with X, Y & Z – that’s where we want to be.

+ Incredibly engaging
+ Appeals to people’s emotions and feelings
– You can appear vague and naive
– You can be seen as not making decisions/being an authority if you keep setting the vision but not making tough choices

Applying These Techniques to Influence Your Team

These styles each have their own advantages and disadvantages.  Using a combination of styles works most effectively, and their effectiveness depends entirely on the situation and context.  Many people have a preferred style influenced by their personality, upbringing and life journey (mine tends more towards Pushing and Reasoning arising from my desire to know how things work and why things happen).

Some styles also work better than others against different personality types – I’ve personally found Reasoning to be particularly effective against Directing, for example.  These styles can also be applied indirectly, e.g., you can apply the Collaborating & Reasoning styles to challenge someone by instead asking them questions, such as “Why do you think that?”

If you’ve been in a situation where you’ve applied these techniques effectively, I’d love to hear it!

2 replies on “Influencing People”

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