Five Questions To Ask To Have Influence Over People

From the Career Conversations Series with Jean, Founder of Exaltitude
January 5, 2022
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Influence is something that always comes up when we're discussing pain points or challenges as an engineer. The more senior you become, the more cross-functional collaboration becomes crucial. In order to be a successful leader, you need to master the skill of persuading people to help you make changes, implement key decisions, and move forward. As part of an EXA Career Conversations series, “Principles of Influence,” Exaltitude Founders Jean discussed the different ways to have influence as engineers.

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The Four Principles of Influence 

In Influence part one, we discussed the Four Principles of Influence. 

  1. Be an expert in a subject matter. You’re so damn good that everyone will listen to you. 
  2. You have built long-lasting relationships with people -- you have brand recognition or reputation. 
  3. Offer incentives to people -- money, gifts, jobs, etc.
  4. Deeply connect with people on a human level and move them with empathy and understanding. 

Read the full article here.


Now we’ll discuss the five questions to ask when you want to have influence over specific situations or people.

1. Who is this change benefiting?

Is it me? Is it my teammates, my team, my manager, company, users, or the whole world? 

If the answer is just me and only me, the other person probably won’t care as much. 

Think of ways to frame your goals or statements in a way that will be mutually beneficial to you AND your teammate, team, manager, company, users, or the world.

 Focus on Them, Not You

In order to be persuasive, you absolutely must focus on the other person, not yourself. What are their needs, wants, desires, goals, and hopes? Put yourself in the other person’s shoes and see things through their eyes.

2. Who is the decision-maker?

Maybe you're trying to have influence over a project direction, and you start jibber-jabbering about it to an engineer. But if he has no decision-making power over it, your influence is pointless.

Let's say you want to get a raise, and you ask your manager for a raise. For most big companies, your manager cannot directly give you a pay raise. They may have to go through calibration or talk to the Founders. It’s important to understand who is the decision-maker before you start influencing people. 

In order to do find out who the decision-makers are, you probably would have to do some networking -- asking questions and connecting people. And that's another topic we’d have to cover another time. 

3. What is your audience’s communication style?

We have different communication styles and ways of thinking through information. Some people make quick, instinctive, gut decisions. Others prefer to think things through. Some people are verbal processors, while others prefer to process everything internally.

When attempting to persuade someone, consider how they process information. If they need time to digest what you’re saying, don’t pressure them to make a decision immediately. Give them time to think, process, and work through any objections they may have. 

On the other hand, if the other person likes to move quickly, work with them and make quick decisions. You know that they make more instinctual decisions, and you can collaborate to make a decision right at the moment. 

The key is to know your audience. 

4. What is it that you want to achieve? 

Define your success scenario. People are really good at talking about what should change or what's wrong, but more important question is - what is the ideal state that you're trying to achieve. 

You need a destination before you start sailing. 

When trying to persuade someone, use vivid imagery. Show them how your argument leads to a better outcome for both of you. Paint a vivid, emotional picture of the outcome. 

The more you can clearly define the outcome, the more persuasive you’ll be. You want to show them how the ultimate outcome of the change is truly good for them. 

5. What is the cost of change? 

Is it resources like time, money, or manpower? 

Or could it be someone else's pride?

Maybe you're asking a team to change an entire feature because it's not effective, and you think there's a better way to do it. It'll require time and resources, but also maybe it will hurt someone's pride. 

Ask, is this something that I want to proceed with? No matter how persuasive you are, no matter how well you know your audience, there always will be a cost in one form or another.

There are a million things in life that can be done. Is this something that needs to be done? Is this cost worth it? Are you going to have to argue with someone in order to influence something? 

“The only way to get the best of an argument is to avoid it.” 
-Dale Carnegie 

If you’ve asked the question and still feel convicted that this is a worthwhile change, then don’t ignore those facts. When you can speak directly to the cost, it adds more authenticity to your argument. It shows them that you understand the situation, that you sympathize with them, and that you want to help overcome them. 

When your audience knows that you understand the cost of change, they’re much more likely to be persuaded by you. They feel like you understand their pain points and are crafting a solution together. 

Next time you want to influence someone, think of the five questions.

1. Who is this change benefiting?

2. Who is the decision-maker?

3. What is your audience’s communication style?

4. What is it that you want to achieve? 

5. What is the cost of change? 

Did you like the article?

Download the Influence checklist - a one page summary of the Principles of Influence talk. 

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