As you start to learn about the different styles of influence, it is quite natural to begin to think about which one will give you the greatest benefit when you attempt to influence people yourself. On workshops, my standard response to this question is that the best style is the one which worked.
A little explanation will help you to understand more about what is actually going on with different influencing styles and, therefore, how you can make the best use of this learning.
As a recap, the influence profile considers four different dimensions of influencing behaviour:
- Sociability and Networking,
- Tact and Diplomacy,
- Determination and
- Emotional Control.
If you are unfamiliar with these, take a look at How to Influence with Style. Here are the main reasons why it is impossible to answer which style is best.
Your natural preferred way of behaving, your style, is caused by a lifetime of experience and perhaps a little nature too. As you go through life, some behaviours work and some don’t. You learn along the way and adapt towards what works — for you. And that’s a key point, what works for you may not work for someone else because we all learn from slightly different experiences and reactions to stimuli.
This means that there is a very large variety of different styles because each person is a mix of all four dimensions to different degrees. This is one reason why it is impossible to say that one style of influence is the best.
If you meet with someone who is using a different style to the one you prefer, you are likely to be distracted by thoughts about the individual’s approach because they are doing things differently from how you think they should do it. For instance, someone who is highly sociable might think that a person who is low on sociability is a bit of a miserable loner, instead of listening intently to what they are saying. With experience and mutual understanding, the distractions can all but disappear.
Think about your team for a moment. They are probably a fairly mixed bunch. Remember that the main problem which different styles cause in a relationship is distraction. If you go in with a highly determined style of influence, the odds are that half of them will probably get distracted by their thoughts about you.
The theory says that if you adapt to the preferred style of influence of the person you are aiming to influence, the distraction will not get in the way of what you want to say. In your team meeting, or any group situation, it is impossible to do this. You might think that mixing it up and playing to different styles during your presentation is a good idea. If you do, be careful. You may well be skilled enough to please all of the people, but you’re just as likely to upset most of the people too at some point. And besides, appearing so flexible in a short space of time is probably going to confuse (and bemuse) rather than influence. Yes, you’ve got it ― it’ll be a performance and an act and will be seen as such.
Are you the same person at home as you are at work? Unlikely. Most people naturally adapt to their environment and can be totally different people when they are among their loved ones and friends rather than at work.
This is caused by two main factors.
Firstly, familiarity; relationships outside of work are usually far more intimate and long-term. Not only do you know your friends well, but you will also have the bond of shared experiences. Consequently, you will be more relaxed and can easily predict how your friend will react in any given situation. At work, even if you have been working with your colleagues for a long time, you will have nothing like the same level of insight into how they think and act. Add to this the challenge of the sheer number of people you interact with and it makes it impossible to become that familiar with everyone you need to influence at work.
The second cause, and this is a big one, is perceived risk. In social groups, it’s okay to make an idiot of yourself from time to time, because you can all laugh about it for weeks afterwards. At work, things are a little more serious. Get it wrong there and it could go down on your performance review, affect your bonus or even get you fired. Friends are far more tolerant.
So again, the best style of influence depends on where you are and who you are with. In fact, the more intimate you are with people, the less style distracts.
The objective you have set can also affect the choice of influencing style. Aside from the differences between your natural style and the styles of the people you are influencing, you need to balance the need to remove distraction with the need to get the job done. Sometimes it is prudent to drive on through even if people don’t like it ― especially when you are in a crisis, the risks are high or emotions are strong.
In other words, don’t think that you always need to adapt your style to suit the other person.
Apart from asking yourself the about the style the other person prefers touse, you also need to consider expects people to use. For example, if people are naturally low on emotional control (i.e. they are very expressive), they will like it if you are too. Yet in a crisis, they will expect you to be cool and calm and will want that from you as their leader. People expect crises to be managed by calm people.
Others may also have certain style expectations of different job roles (sales people), positions (directors), gender, race… The list goes on.
And this list could go on too, but it needs to end. In summary, you need to judge which is the most appropriate style of influence by thinking about…
- What you want to achieve.
- Who you need to influence.
- What styles they prefer.
- What they expect.
Oh, and one final one: consider what styles you are capable of!
Having thought about all of this, my strong advice is to not get too hung up about it. Just come back to this topic on a regular basis and reflect on recent experiences each time you review it. To be honest, I’ve been working on influencing styles for eight years but have never spent any time developing different styles. Just thinking about them on a regular basis has made me highly flexible in my approach and I can adapt subconsciously. And, while I am being frank, that doesn’t mean I always do adapt my behaviour to suit others!