Influencing Down: 7 Ways to Convince People Who Answer to You

Your ability to influence multiple people can take many different forms, requiring you to “influence up” (your boss, shareholders, a client’s president) and “influence down” (your department colleagues, a new hire, a contracted employee).

In a previous post, I presented seven ways to influence up. Now, let’s look at the opposite of influencing up, which is influencing down the hierarchical ladder. You don’t want people merely following orders or feeling coerced, because you’re likely to attain compliance but not commitment. Instead, you want enthusiastic supporters who demonstrate innovation and passion for their work and the outcomes.

Here are seven ways to influence down (which, like influencing up,  also work well in individual persuasion situations):

1. Use your “home field advantage.”

Your office is the perfect place to persuade, especially if you and your targets are surrounded by your honors, awards and diplomas — which subtly show the power of your position. Showcase your authority and remain more comfortable than anyone else in your own surroundings. (Obviously, if you work in a cubicle or you’re pitching a large group, you’ll need to find an alternate location. In that case, a neutral space such as a conference room or an offsite location might work best.)

2. Avoid condescension at all costs.

Treat everyone as a rational adult by never implying a concept or topic is above someone else’s “pay grade.” Keep your voice confident, low-pitched, and professional, and avoid “up talk” at the end of sentences (ending the sentence on a higher pitch than you began, making declarative statements sound like interrogatives).

3. Be brief but not abrupt.

Make and take time to entertain questions. Pay as much attention and invest as much time as you would if you were influencing up. Don’t expend less energy simply because people have lesser positions.

4. Leverage honest ingratiation.

In other words, sweet-talk your targets: “Your team has an exceptional track record with this marketing campaign, and I’d like your support in taking the initiative to the next level, because I know you guys can handle the added responsibilities.” If you’re honest and sincere, this is a fine tactic. If you’re neither, then it’s merely manipulative and will be unethical, ineffective and perhaps even counterproductive.

5. Request input.

Don’t just ask for positive feedback, but invite negative comments, too, about what weaknesses your targets can detect in your pitch: “What do you see as the main vulnerabilities of this marketing plan?” It’s far more effective to elicit views regarding both sides of the issue rather than blindly believing your idea is perfect (or at least the only option).

6. Give targets an opportunity to contribute.

Explore how latitude of action and independence could help sway opinion: “We need someone to organize the database, work with the agency on calendar issues and write the sales force communication. Which of these tasks would you most prefer?” In fact, application of talents and recognition for accomplishment are two of the primary motivators in the workplace. Why? Because people love autonomy. Incorporate that need into your plans whenever possible as another way of appealing to others’ self-interests.

7. Don’t micromanage.

I call this approach allowing “freedom with fences.” You delegate to subordinates all the time with the intent of reducing your own labor intensity, and the same dynamic applies here. Set aside some time to provide feedback, of course, as well monitor results and fine-tune, while still remembering that autonomy often drives employees. (Feedback isn’t necessarily something all employees want, but it’s something you should know they need.)

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