“You can’t be an effective leader if you can’t influence others to act.” – Dale Zand, The Leadership Triad

The best place to achieve influence is on common ground. Just telling someone what you want them to know or do doesn’t work. You have to link what they need/want to your new information, opportunity or desired action. Remember, it is not about you and what you want. It is about them and us moving towards a better endpoint.

As a psychologist, I can assure you that it’s much harder to change someone’s real or perceived needs than to change HOW those needs are being met. As you plan an influence strategy, focus more on how you can help people move (better, faster, cheaper) to somewhere they already want to go. There is almost always common ground in how we can meet shared business goals.

Of course, the ideal situation doesn’t always happen. When you and another person are not intersecting in terms of wants and needs (related either to pathway, product, service, timing, resources, etc) don’t ignore, deny or minimize it. Address the gap head on and discuss what you can do about it. Candor and nimbleness can be powerful agents to get us ‘unstuck’ in a tough moment on a longer journey.


“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” – George Bernard Shaw

Clarity is about calibrating and re-calibrating on the:

  • “What”– outcomes you are targeting
  • “Why” – the rationale for these actions at this time
  • “How” – the key guardrails related to timing, process, people and oversight.

It’s not enough for you to speak; it must be that the other person understands.

Achieving clarity requires, once again, communicating in the context of the other person’s needs, wants, values and circumstances It also requires checking with the person to gauge understanding. Never assume that two people walk away from the same conversation with the same understanding.

If you are using support materials (like the dreaded PowerPoint deck), keep them brief. State your objective simply and early. Paint a desired and realistic future state. Appeal to client-centered and outcome-based logic and emotions. And most important, use the deck as a tool to support the conversation, not drive the conversation. Stop and ask questions – and don’t be afraid to abandon your document if the conversation takes you in a different, more effective direction.

An Influence Checklist

Before trying to influence anyone about anything, challenge yourself to state, briefly, clearly, and specifically:

  • What are the short and long-term outcomes that I am seeking? How are these outcomes beneficial to others as well as to me?
  • What do I need to change and why in order to achieve these outcomes?
  • What do I want the other person to do differently and why?
  • How do I want/need them to feel at the beginning, middle and end of this change process?

Here are other questions to ensure that you are maximizing the four C’s:


  • Have I done the work of connecting?
  • Do I understand the other person’s needs, wants, values and circumstances (NWVC)?


  • Have I taken the time to build credibility on their terms?
  • How can I show that I understand the other person’s NWVC?
  • How can I position my perspective and supporting information best in the context of their NWVC?
  • What will be their concerns and what new information or perspective do I bring to those concerns?


  • Where do my/our goals, perspective and desired actions intersect with the person’s NWVC?
  • If they don’t intersect, how can we deal with that effectively?
  • When do I need to deliver the product or service for maximum impact?


  • Are we both clear on what is happening going forward – the “what” and the “how?”
  • How can I best position the “what” and the “how” in the context of the other person’s NWVC*?  *NWVC = Needs, Wants, Values, Circumstances

Mistakes to Avoid

  • Not linking what you want to what the other person wants
  • Hoping that you can quickly get past this influence task to get back to your real work (75% of your work is probably influence)
  • Expressing personal certainty (versus professional confidence) about the future (all the easy issues are solved; only hard, complicated challenges remain)
  • Oversimplification of the current situation or of the future changes required
  • Too much data or wrong data (i.e., not related to what the person cares about)
  • Burying the headline or challenges or any bad news
  • Talking more about you than them
  • Polarizing the options… either this or that
  • Casting value on various choices (if you are smart, you will do what I want)
  • Pushing too hard or too fast (do not expect minds to change immediately; your job is to plant seeds and then tend the seeds)
  • Using absolute language (you must, we have to, etc.)
  • Ignoring special circumstances (openly discussing possible exceptions or special cases demonstrates expertise and partnership

And when there’s resistance…

Count on running into resistance – it goes with the territory. Your ability to overcome resistance is what makes you more or less skilled at influencing. Don’t take it personally or interpret it to mean something about the person (that they are difficult people, etc.) Look at resistance as an indicator of where you need work on one of the 4 C’s. Here are some common reasons people say no in business:

  • They don’t feel comfortable with or like you (connection)
  • They don’t trust you (credibility)
  • They don’t need what you have to offer (commonality)
  • They don’t want what you have to offer (commonality)
  • They don’t have your urgency (commonality and clarity)
  • They don’t have or feel they have the resources (commonality and clarity)
  • They don’t have or feel they have the authority (credibility and clarity)

When you run into resistance or rejection (and you will), use the following questions:

  • When we talk about this topic, what is most important to you to achieve or fix?
  • What would persuade you to consider the plan I am suggesting?
  • What do you see as the pluses and minuses of “staying this course” or doing something else?
  • What could I do better when I talk with you about this?

Individuals versus Groups

It’s much easier to persuade people one at a time. Unfortunately, we don’t always have that luxury. Persuading groups of people can be tricky, so proceed strategically. Here are some tips:

  • Segment the group in your mind: innovators (want new for the sake of new); early adopters (more willing to try new); early majority (first to go along); later majority (join in much later); laggards (biggest resisters – spend less time here).
  • Consider meeting individually with select members of the group who are influencers and can help “sway” group opinion.
  • Pick your best arguments (1-3) and stick with them versus having 25 in your back pocket.
  • Illuminate a burning platform (we can’t do this much longer without real loss).
  • Clarify your vision – this is a better place for us to go and the earlier we get there, the better.
  • Establish a common enemy – looks who’s coming at us.
  • Be clear that the rules can change – there’s a new way to do this that will be cool and better for us.

The Bottom Line: Influence is the language of leadership. We can all learn how to influence better by improving how we connect with people; convey credibility; shed light on common ground; and point to clear actions that, when taken together, take us all further.


Laurie Anderson, PhD, is a clinical psychologist with over 20 years experience as an executive coach to leaders in organizations ranging from Fortune 100 companies to the World Bank. Visit or call 1-708-524-2444 for more information on Laurie’s services for individuals, groups, and organizations.

Laurie Anderson, PhD, is a clinical psychologist with over 20 years experience as an executive coach to leaders in organizations ranging from Fortune 100 companies to the World Bank. Visit or call 1-708-524-2444 for more information on Laurie’s services for individuals, groups, and organizations.

Comments on this entry are closed.