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  • Terry R. Bacon

The TOPS Formula and Influence Skills

Updated: May 19, 2021

When you attempt to influence people, you are applying power and skill to accomplish a goal. Your success depends on several factors, some of which you can control and others which you cannot. The ones you can control are shown in this formula:

TOPS = influence effectiveness


T = your choice of influence technique

O = your organizational power sources

P = your personal power sources, including will power

S = the skill with which you use the influence technique

To influence someone effectively, you must use the right influence technique for that person at that time, you must have sufficient sources of power (for the influence techniques you are using), and you must be sufficiently skilled at using the technique to make it work well.

Here’s an example. Let’s say that you want a team leader, Sarah, to adopt an approach to data mining that you developed. You have been working on it for months and are convinced that your approach will improve both the quality of the data generated and the speed with which is data is mined. Sarah’s team has been using a standard data mining method. You have limited but compelling evidence that your method is superior; however, adopting it would cost her team some time in the conversion.

Sarah is a rational person with degrees in mathematics and business, but she’s under some pressure to deliver her team’s results by the next deadline, which is just weeks away. You decide that logical persuasion is the most appropriate influence technique to use, but it alone probably won’t convince her to switch to your approach. What she may find compelling, however, is the improved quality of the outcome. That would appeal to her pride and her desire to submit the highest quality work product. So you decide to also use the influence technique appealing to values. These are your choices of influence techniques (the T in TOPS).

Your organizational power sources (the O in TOPS) are limited. You don’t have high role or resource power, and your network is now broad enough to be helpful. But you do have high information power based on your months of work and the data you have generated. And, although you have only been with the company for ten months, in that time you have developed a solid reputation for the quality of your work and your knowledge of data mining.

Your personal sources of power (the P in TOPS) are better. You are especially strong in knowledge power, but you are also reasonably expressive and thought to be a person of high character. You don’t know Sarah well, so your history with her is almost nil, and your attraction power would be considered average.

Because of the time pressure she’s under, you decide to present a succinct, logical case for adopting your approach—with an emphasis on the enhanced quality and accuracy of the outcome. You will recognize the time pressure by having thought through exactly how long it will take for her team to adopt the new approach. You hope that by doing that you will have anticipated her objections and shown her a clear and compelling path forward, again emphasizing that the enhanced outcome is well worth her teams’ investment in time and effort.

Now, do you have the skill to effectively influence Sarah? This is the S in TOPS.

There are twenty-eight influence skills, which fall into four categories, as described below. For logical persuasion, you especially need these skills: logical reasoning, analyzing and displaying data visually, finding creative alternatives, listening (for objections and concerns), asserting, behaving self-confidently, resolving conflicts and disagreements among others, and building consensus. For appealing to values, you mostly need the following skills: conveying energy and enthusiasm, using a compelling tone of voice, using assertive non-verbals, having insight into what others value, and building rapport and trust.

If you have these skills and can apply them successfully, you have excellent shot at influencing Sarah to adopt your approach.

Your success also depends on Sarah. She must be open to listening to you and not so fearful of the deadline that she feels she cannot make any changes now. It’s up to you to build and present a convincing case for your approach. She must be persuaded by that it will work and that the risks are low. And she will need to see that a higher-quality outcome is worth the investment in time and effort now. You will need to deploy the skills identified above for appealing to values. Be confident. Convey energy and enthusiasm. Use a compelling tone of voice when presenting your case. And build trust by presenting a solid plan, backed by persuasive evidence.

If Sarah adopts your approach and her project succeeds, you will have built a huge amount of power with her and others in the company who become aware of your contributions. With Sarah, you will have built history power, as well as attraction, knowledge, and character. You will also have increased your network and your reputation in the company, all of which will make it easier for your to be more influential in the future.

The Influence Skills

As the TOPS model shows, influence effectiveness is partly a function of the skill with which you use any influence technique. Like a skilled craftsman, it takes time and practice to perfect these skills. People who become highly skilled in the areas described below can be extraordinarily effective at leading and influencing other people.

The research on power and influence shows that there are twenty-eight skills associated with influence effectiveness. These skills fall into four categories: communication and reasoning, assertiveness, interpersonal, and interaction.

Communication and Reasoning Influence Skills

Logical reasoning: the ability to think logically, to analyze problems and identify logical solutions to them. The fundamental skill behind the influence technique of logical persuading.

Analyzing and displaying data visually: skill at creating charts, graphs, illustrations, and other visuals that clearly convey the relationships among data points and communicate ideas and conclusions clearly in visual form.

Finding creative alternatives: being creative and innovative; the ability to see alternatives and solutions where others haven’t; skill at “thinking outside the box.”

Probing: skill at asking insightful questions that lead others to the heart of the problem or issue.

Speaking conversationally: the ability to engage people in casual conversation; skill at conversing on many topics; being a skilled conversationalist.

Conveying energy and enthusiasm: bringing energy and enthusiasm to interactions and situations; being naturally energetic and engaged; the ability to get others energized.

Listening: skill at actively listening to others; being engaged in others when they are speaking and accurately hearing and retaining the essence of their thoughts.

Assertiveness Influence Skills

Asserting: skill at stating an opinion with confidence or force; presenting ideas strongly and affirmatively; maintaining one’s position without becoming aggressive.

Persisting: skill at enduring steadfastly; continuing one’s course despite opposition or resistance; being insistent and tenacious.

Behaving self-confidently: having faith in one’s own judgment, abilities, and rights; projecting firmness and steadfastness in one’s purpose, directions, and goals.

Behaving authoritatively: skill at projecting authority; behaving as though one has the legitimate right to use authority; clearly stating a decision, conclusion, or course of action.

Using a compelling tone of voice: having a strong, firm, and resonant voice; the ability to command attention when one speaks.

Using assertive non-verbals: skill at using strong and confident gestures, facial expressions, and body language; projecting confidence and assurance through all the non-verbal aspects of communication.

Using authority without appearing heavy handed: the ability to command others and use legitimate authority without bullying or being overbearing, oppressive, or harsh; a key skill in the influence technique stating.

Interpersonal Influence Skills

Being friendly and sociable with strangers: skill at engaging with people one does not know; being outgoing and conveying warmth, acceptance, and interest in strangers. A critical skill in the influence technique of socializing.

Showing genuine interest in others: skill at conveying genuine regard for other people; being authentic in showing care, concern, and curiosity in others; skill at making others feel valued, respected, and important. A critical skill in socializing and appealing to relationship.

Having insight into what others value: having a strong, intuitive understanding of other people and what is important to them; skill at discerning what others value without them having to say what it is; interpersonal perceptiveness.

Being sensitive to others’ feelings: skill at perceiving emotions; the ability to understand others’ emotions and empathize with them.

Building rapport and trust: skill at building harmonious and sympathetic relationships with others; skill at conveying trust in others as well as causing them to feel that one can also be trusted; establishing trustful connections with others.

Building close relationships: the ability to creative trusted friendships and close relationships with other people; skill at sustaining intimate and friendly relationships over time.

Supporting and encouraging others: skill not only at helping and encouraging others but conveying that attitude as well; giving aid or assistance to others; promoting, advancing, inspiring, or stimulating others and encouraging them to forge ahead.

Interaction Skills

Convincing people to help you influence others: skill at enlisting others’ support and assistance in influencing others; skill at building agreement and cooperation and a unified sense of purpose, particularly in approaching others and trying to persuade them as well. The most critical skill in the influence technique of alliance building.

Resolving conflicts and disagreements among others: skill at managing conflict; the ability to identify core issues, find creative and mutually acceptable solutions, and reduce the emotions in situations that prevent resolution of conflict; skill at mediation.

Building consensus: the ability to mediate differences of opinion and reach solutions that others can accept; skill at creating harmony and agreement among people who initially disagree.

Taking the initiative to show others how to do things: a strong interest in and desire to teach others; skill at coaching, teaching, advising, and helping others in developing their skills and abilities. An essential skill in the influence technique of modeling.

Bargaining or negotiating: skill at reach agreement with others over an exchange of things of value; skill at discussing terms and reaching a satisfactory agreement in a settlement, bargain, or deal. Crucial to the influence technique of exchanging.

Willingness to ask others for favors: the ease and comfort with which one is willing to ask other people for something done or granted out of kindness or good will. An essential ability in the influence technique appealing to relationship.

Willingness to do favors for others: one’s willingness to reciprocate favors; doing something or granting something to others out of kindness or good will and with no expectation of immediate reciprocation. An essential ability in appealing to relationship.

Influence Skill Difficulty and Potential Impact

The table below lists the twenty-eight influence skills, the difficulty of each skill to master, and the potential impact each skill can have on leading and influencing others. The skills are ranked according to potential impact and then by difficulty to master. Bargaining or negotiating, for instance, has very high potential impact but is also a difficult skill to master. Conversely, persisting has low potential impact and is easy to master. In developing your leadership and influence skills, you will have more leverage with the skills having the greatest potential impact, even though many of them are difficult to master.

The difficulty ratings in this table vary by individual. Some people would find "Being sensitive to others" an easy skill to acquire; others would find it very difficult if not impossible, depending on their personality, education, and upbringing. In general, if you wish to build your influence effectiveness, focus on mastering the skills that have the highest potential impact and are easiest for you to acquire or master.

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