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Understanding Influence

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Understanding Influence

Influence is the application of power to accomplish a specific purpose. Research shows that people typically try to lead and/or influence others using ten positive influence techniques: logical persuading, legitimizing, exchanging, stating, socializing, appealing to relationship, consulting, alliance building, appealing to values, and modeling. There are also four negative or "dark side" influence tactics: avoiding, manipulating, intimidating, and threatening. For a complete explanation of these influence techniques, see Elements of Influence: The Art of Getting Others to Follow Your Lead (AMACOM Press, 2011).

Influence can be as complex as forming an alliance of nations to try to influence a rogue country's leadership to change its policies or as simple as a child smiling and extending his hand in an offer of friendship. Every time we try to affect how other people think, behave, or decide, we are trying to influence them. A smile and a handshake are attempts to socialize (see below), to form a connection and break down barriers. As people get to know us and like us, they are more likely to say yes to our requests.

The Ten Influence Techniques


Legitimizing:  Justifying what you want someone to do by appealing to authority.


Logical Persuading:  Using logic to explain what you want and why you want it or to prove an assertion.


Exchanging:  Negotiating or bartering for what you want.  Attempting an exchange.


Stating:  Being assertive and stating what you want of what you believe.


Socializing:  Getting to know the other person, being open, conversational, and friendly.  Seeking common ground.


Appealing to relationship:  Gaining agreement or cooperation with people you already know well:  friends or family.


Consulting:  Engaging or stimulating people by asking questions and involving them in the solution.


Alliance building:  Building a coalition of supporters who will help you influence someone else.


Appealing to values:  Making an emotional appeal or an appeal to the heart.  Engaging people's values and beliefs.


Modeling:  Behaving in ways you want others to behave, being a role model, mentor, teacher, or guide.


Rational means of influencing

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Using logic to explain what you believe or what you want. The number one influence power technique throughout the world. The most frequently used and effective influence technique in nearly every culture, but it does not work with everyone and in many circumstances will not work at all.  People tend to make decisions emotionally and justify them with logic.

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Appealing to authority. On average, the least-effective influence technique in the world, but it will work with some people most of the time and most people some of the time and can result in quick compliance.  Legitimizing has many forms--from invoking a manager's legitimate authority to citing an expert's degree or wearing a badge.

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Negotiating or trading for cooperation. Most effective when it is implicit rather than explicit. Used less often globally than any other influence technique, but it is sometimes the only way to gain agreement or cooperation, and in many cultures bartering is commonplace and expected.

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Asserting what you believe or want. One of the influence power tools. Most effective when you are self-confident and state ideas with a compelling tone of voice. Can cause resistance, however, if overused or used heavy-handedly.  Some people are often influenced by an assertive person, but others are repelled by any show of forcefulness.

Social means of influencing

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Getting to know the other person, being open and friendly, finding common ground. Includes complimenting people and making them feel good about themselves. One of the influence power tools. Second in frequency and effectiveness globally. A critical technique in many cultures and situations.

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Appealing to values

Making an emotional appeal or an appeal to the heart. One of the principal ways to influence many people at once and the best technique for building commitment. A frequent technique of religious or spiritual leaders, idealists, fundraisers, politicians, and some business leaders.  Masters of this technique can create mass movements.

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Appealing to relationship

Gaining agreement or cooperation with people you already know well. Based on the length and strength of your existing relationships. One of the influence power tools. Third highest in effectiveness globally.

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Engaging or stimulating people by asking questions; involving them in the problem solving and solution. One of the influence power tools. Fourth globally in frequency and effectiveness. Works well with smart, self-confident people who have a strong need to contribute ideas.

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Behaving in ways you want others to behave; being a role model; teaching, coaching, counseling, and mentoring. Fifth globally in effectiveness. Can influence people without you being aware that you are influencing. Parents, leaders, managers, and public figures influence others through modeling all the time - positively or negatively - whether they choose to or not.

Unethical influence

The Four Negative Influence Techniques

There are also four negative influence techniques: avoiding, manipulating, intimidating, and threatening. These are negative because they take away the other person's legitimate right to say no. They force them to comply with something contrary to their wishes or best interests, they mislead them, or they force them to act when they would otherwise choose not to.



Forcing others to act, sometimes against their best interests, by avoiding responsibility or conflict or behaving passive-aggressively. The most common dark side technique. In some cultures, trying to preserve harmony can look like avoiding.



Influencing through lies, deceit, hoaxes, swindles, and cons. Disguising one's real intentions or intentionally withholding information others need to make an informed decision.





Imposing oneself on others; forcing people to comply by being loud, overbearing, abrasive, arrogant, aloof, or insensitive. The preferred technique of bullies.

Harming others or threatening to harm them if they do not comply; making examples of some people so others know that the threats are real. The preferred technique of dictators and despots.

Man with Book

Learn & understand key principles to successful influencing 

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