Working with leaders and teams for over twenty years, I have often been asked to address and develop a person or group’s influence skills. We like to use the Influence Style Indicator (ISI) to support this work. While not all, many (if not most) people regard influence as an act of force or coercion—requiring one to have and directly leverage authority and formal organizational or positional power. While this is not true, there are many who would reject this idea too completely, denying that power plays an important role in the best forms of influence. In truth, power is THE central issue in influence, but power can be understood, and leveraged, in very different ways.
Influence should be thought of as the behaviors you engage in with other people to impact their choices and actions. Discovery Learning’s Influence Style Indicator (ISI, now published by MHS) measures your preference and attachment to five styles of influencing others—Rationalizing, Asserting, Inspiring, Bridging and Negotiating. Understanding these styles well means engaging power in fundamentally different ways, but doing so opens up so many more options and opportunities to influence people, change behavior and impact outcomes.
To influence by Rationalizing, you place and see power in the data, in the facts and in the logic of the situation to win the argument. Power is in the data. If you are Rationalizing, you would say things like:
- “My analysis shows that. . .”
- “The experts say. . .”
- “The only logical answer is . . .”
- “What information do you need to . . .”
People preferring the Rationalizing style tend to want and expect to transact facts—and to have those who wish to engage with and influence them have deep knowledge of their subjects, to be objective, dispassionate and to have done their homework.
The Asserting style pushes, argues and drives forward a given point of view. If you are exercising the Asserting style, power resides in you, and influence requires you to push your ideas, insights or desires onto others. Asserting sounds like:
- “That idea is just wrong. . .”
- “It is clear that the best way forward is to. . .”
- “I’m 100% certain that. . .”
- “You have no choice but to. . .”
People preferring the Asserting style expect that anyone wishing to engage with or certainly to influence them would lean into the argument—and to come ready for a clash and to be prepared for push-back. May the strongest and most tenacious win!
The Inspiring style, like the Asserting style, sees power residing in the individual, but rather than using that power to push an idea or viewpoint out or forward, if you deploy the Inspiring style, you use personal power to pull others toward you—to make a case or position so attractive that you lure people to you or your point of view. Inspiring can sound like:
- “If we could figure this out, imagine what an impact we would have.”
- “You’re the best at this I’ve ever seen. Would you be willing to. . .”
- “Just think of what this could mean to the future of . . .”
- “I want to tell you a story about why I . . . “
Those most attracted to Inspiring look for others who seek to influence them to sell them, to shine up their pitch and to present a compelling and attractive case (or to be an attractive or compelling messenger).
If you spend time and effort trying to grow the shared space you have with those around you—to explore and grow your common views, values and opinions and to strengthen your relationship—you are practicing the Bridging style. Bridging assumes that power resides in the relationship and, therefore, in the degree of connection we have between us. Bridging sounds like:
- “I understand your dilemma, so can you help me understand why. . .”
- “I had this same issue last year, and let me tell you. . .”
- “It sounds like the three of us have a common agenda; we should stick together.”
- “It sounds like you are saying that you cannot go any further to accommodate us. Will you explain. . .”
People preferring Bridging expect others—especially those seeking to influence them—to acknowledge and engage the shared relationship. They also expect empathy, active listening and a genuine curiosity about both parties’ values and points of view.
If you prefer the Negotiating style, you believe power resides in the ability and willingness to craft a clever and expedient compromise within which everyone may lose something, but within which also stands the chance of mutual satisfaction. Believing power is in the practical and realistic solution, this style—when done well—draws from Rationalizing (facts and data), Asserting (clear use of voice and drive), Inspiring (drive to pull others toward you), and Bridging (a desire and attempt to establish and grow common content and relational ground). Negotiating sounds like:
- “Let’s agree to discuss this later when everyone is calmer.”
- “I know this is not a long-term solution to all of your needs, but it does provide a path forward.”
- “If you will . . . then I can. . .”
- “I will support you in the meeting tomorrow and when my project is presented next quarter, . . .”
People preferring the Negotiating style expect and want those who engage them—and certainly those hoping to influence them—to come ready to engage both the content and the relationship. Driven by the practical and the need for a solution or a direction forward, those preferring Negotiating tend to find frustrating the intensity and overly-specific needs of the other approaches, all of which can obscure a good, practical solution within their grasp.