It takes two to tango and two to influence. Both the influencer and the person being influenced must want it to work and must invest in making it work. Consider the difference between leading and managing and different level of engagement before trying to influence anyone. In brief, leaders influence contribution and commitment while managers direct compliance.

Don’t make false trade offs between influencing and strengthening relationships. Do both. Influencing is about change. If you’re trying to influence someone to make a change they perceive as bad for themselves, that will hurt your relationship. Instead, build relationships by influencing people to make changes that are good for them and by helping them perceive the changes as good for them.


Good for them

Start with ideas that are good for the people you are trying to influence. This is about happiness. The secret of happiness is that happiness is good. Actually, three goods: doing good for others, things you are good at and good for yourself. If the idea fits one of these criteria, it is, in fact, good for the people you are trying to influence.


Perceived as good for them

The trouble is that perception is reality. Not everyone perceives things that are, in fact, good for them as good for them.

Ideas that are directly good for the people you are trying to influence require the least positioning. If you make them aware of the ideas, help them understand and believe them, they are likely to perceive them as good for themselves and follow your lead.

Ideas that involve things the people you are trying to influence are good at may require you to help them see the connection between doing things they are good at and their own happiness. Sometimes that connection plays out over time in that they may need to work on something now to get better at something to allow them to do things later that will bring them happiness then.

Ideas that are good for others will only motivate those you are trying to influence if they care about the others that these ideas are good for. In this case it’s not about you, not about the organization, not even about those you are trying to influence. It’s about the bigger cause.


Not good for them

Sometimes people need to do things that are not, in fact, good for them. Tempting as it may be in the moment, influencing people to do these things by convincing them that these things are good for them or good for those they care about when that is not true will cost you dearly over time. Eventually people will see through your deception and lose trust in you. You can’t influence people that don’t trust you.

So, in these cases, don’t try to influence them. Don’t try to get them to commit to the cause. Don’t ask them to contribute. Give them direction and accept the lower level of engagement that comes with compliance.



Have different tools available for different situations. In particular, be clear on when you should give or get direction and when you should give or get influence.

Provide direction when others need you to make a decision. Providing direction on its own does not necessarily mean the best you can expect is compliance. If people believe that your direction is in their or the cause’s best interest, they will contribute and commit.

Seek direction when someone else should make a decision. Sometimes you lead. Sometimes you follow. Following well is a relationship builder.

Seek input from others who know more about things than you do. Their differential knowledge could be general or specific, theoretical or practical, just so long as they have a perspective you value.

Influence others to make changes that are good for them, leverage their strengths or further a cause they believe in, thereby strengthening your relationship with them at the same time.