• Terry R. Bacon

The TOPS Formula and Influence Skills

Updated: May 19

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.