Elements of Influence

The Art of Getting Others to Follow Your Lead

 Elements of Influence

Author: Terry R. Bacon
Pub Date: July 2011
Print Edition: $21.95
Print ISBN: 9780814438930
Format: Paper or Softback
e-Book ISBN: 9780814417331

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We human beings are social creatures, and our world works because of

the many ways we interact with and influence one another. We get our

way with others by developing bases of power—which derive from a

number of personal and organizational sources—and using that power

to influence how others think, feel, and act. We succeed in business as

well as in life when we learn how best to influence others to do our

bidding, accept our point of view, follow our lead, join our cause, feel

our excitement, or buy our products and services.

We should be clear about one thing from the start: Influence is not

some magic power only a few people have. Every person on the planet

exercises influence all the time. Influencing is what all of us seek to do

whenever we want someone else to do something, to agree with us, to

believe something, to choose something, to think in a particular way,

to accept our perspective, or to behave differently. Even the simple act

of greeting other people is an act of influence (you are trying to persuade

them that you are friendly and not hostile, and you want to

influence them to treat you in a friendly, nonhostile manner in return).

A baby tries to influence its mother when it cries. Children try to influence

their parents when they ask if they can watch a television program

or go outside and play. Teachers try to influence their students;

salespeople try to influence their customers; employees try to influence

their boss; advisers try to influence their clients; lobbyists try to

influence elected officials; advertisers try to influence consumers; leaders

try to influence their followers; and authors, like me, try to influence


We tend to think that power and influence belong only to those

who are very powerful and influential—to kings and presidents, govern-

ment officials, generals, billionaires, movie stars, renowned athletes,

and others among the rich and famous—but this is a fallacy.

Influence is so common and so much a part of the fabric of daily life

that we usually fail to recognize it when it happens. In virtually every

human interaction, there will be multiple attempts at influence, some

verbal and some nonverbal. The person I’m speaking to nods her head

(wanting me to believe that she agrees with what I’ve said or at least

understands it). I ask for her opinion (this is an influence attempt

called consulting). She tells me what she thinks and indicates why she

thinks it is true (another influence attempt, since she is trying to persuade

me to accept her idea of truth). I suggest we meet with someone

else (an influence attempt) to discuss the matter further. She agrees but

wants to bring along an expert who can validate her perspective

(another influence attempt).

Round and round we go, each one of us trying to influence the other

so we can shape the outcome—and this is what human interactions are:

a continuous negotiation for agreement or acceptance as we all attempt

to exert our will, point of view, or interests. In English, the word influence

can have negative connotations, as in influence peddling in Washington

or one person exerting undue influence on another. But these negative

examples of influence give a bad name to what is actually a ubiquitous

and, for the most part, ethical human practice. The fact is that you could

not get along in the world if you were not able to influence others and if

you were not willing to be influenced by them on a nearly continuous basis.

As other authors have noted, “No one escapes psychological ‘axwork,’

the constant reconfiguring of our beliefs, attitudes, intentions, and

behavior by unrelenting and ubiquitous forces. . . . Persuasion is cons-

tantly remaking us into persons who are measurably changed. Sometimes

imperceptibly—ofttimes dramatically.”

Influence is part of nearly every communication and occurs in virtually

every human interaction. Influence is crucial to business, too. It

is so fundamental to leadership that there could be no leadership without


So what is influence? Webster’s dictionary defines influence as “the

act or power of producing an effect without apparent exertion of force

or direct exercise of command,” or “the power or capacity of causing

an effect in indirect or intangible ways.” The research on power and

influence shows, however, that while it may happen without an apparent

exertion of force, influence can also be overt and quite tangible, as

when a merchant offers a customer free shipping if the customer will

accept the price being stated (an influence technique called exchan-

ging) or when a product developer says to a colleague, “I need your

help on a project” (an influence technique called stating).

Influence is the art of getting others to take your lead—

to believe something you want them to believe, think in a way

you want them to think, or do something you want them

to do.

Ethical Influence

When influence is ethical, the person being influenced (the influencee)

consents to be influenced, although most of the time that consent is

implicit and unstated. A friend asks me for a favor, and I agree to it. A

colleague calls me and suggests that we meet to talk about an urgent

business opportunity, and I move other appointments on my calendar

so that we can meet right away. I am listening to a debate between two

presidential candidates. They are discussing the economy and one of

them seems to have a better grasp of the issues and a better solution to

the problems—and I decide to vote for that candidate. During an

annual physical, my doctor tells me that my cholesterol level is too

high and advises me to see a nutritionist who can help me learn to eat

healthier foods—and I make an appointment with the nutritionist as

soon as I leave the clinic. In each of these cases, I am not being coerced.

I have a choice. I could decide to say no to each of these influence

attempts, so I am, in effect, consenting to be influenced.

If I have no choice, however, then the influence attempt is coercive

or manipulative and therefore unethical. A man points a gun at

me and demands that I give him my wallet. A solicitor tells me that

my generous gift to the nonprofit she represents will aid people in a

developing country, but in fact she is pocketing many donations as

part of her “management fee.” An angry man pushes his way to the

front of the line at my service counter, demanding that I serve him

first and give him what he wants or he’ll report me to my supervisor.

My boss tells me not to worry about some charges on his expense

account that he doesn’t have receipts for. In the same breath, he says

it’s too bad about the recent layoffs and I should feel lucky I still have

a job. A customer will agree to accept my proposal only if I pay a consulting

fee to an agent in his country—who happens to be the customer’s

cousin. In these cases, I am being pressured, coerced, or lied to,

and saying no could have negative consequences for me.

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