The HR Professional: Gaining The Influence Edge®

Ever get the feeling that when line mangers hear someone from HR is coming to see them about something, they immediately start grousing? You can just hear them: ” What does HR want now? They are just going to get in my way, and tell me I have to do this or that.”

Human resources professionals have been trying to dispel this image of their role, and instead become supportive partners with the organization’s business units. But, as you know, there are those times when you do need line managers or employees to do something that they might not be inclined to do. The question, then, becomes how to influence them to your way of thinking without coming off as a dictator.

“The outcome of these types of discussions should always be to at least preserve, if not build, the relationship.” says Alan A. Vengel, author of The Influence Edge: How to Persuade Others to Help You Achieve Your Goals (Berret Koehler Publishers, Inc., 2000). “Influence skills are really the ability to get another person to do something that you need them to do, something that is a measurable action to where you can actually see that they are doing it.” (See page 8 for several notable incentives for developing influence skills.)

Four basic questions

Vengel, who is President of Vengel Consulting Group, Inc., a training and consulting firm in Danville , California , says the first step in developing and implementing Influence Skills is to ask yourself four very basic questions:

  • What is my goal? This goal needs to be specific. “What happens to most people, including HR professionals, is that they have very vague goals for meetings, and so they come out with vague results,” he notes. “It’s not good enough for you to say that you want Sheila to be more open to your ideas, because you don’t really know what that means or what actions she would take if she were more open. A more appropriate goal to set would be that you want her to invite you to her staff meetings.”
  • What do I think the other person’s mindset is? You need to put yourself into the other person’s shoes and see the world the way he or she would. What is the main concern this person will have? This will help you put together your influence strategy.
  • What is going on in the organizations? Think about organizational factors that can influence your goals. Are there downsizing measures going on, changes in the organizational structure, mergers, new people being hired, or people retiring soon?
  • What are my assumptions? Really check your assumptions about the situation or the person. You may not know Frank, but you’ve heard he is a tough cookie who can make a situation very difficult. You need to find out if this is true and not base your actions on what you have heard. Do some assessment when you get into the meeting, so you don’t just start treating Frank based on what you’ve heard.
Push energy and pull energy

Now that you have asked the four questions and developed your strategy based on your answers, says Vengel, your next step is actually having your meeting. There are two types of energies that will help you achieve your goals – Push Energy and Pull Energy – and you need to be flexible and disciplined enough to be able to switch between these two forces depending on the circumstances.

If you don’t know the person very well and are taking time to assess the situation, Pull Energy is the one to start with. This means that you listen, question, and maybe even disclose. “You want to establish a rapport with the person, find some common ground,” says Vengel. “You spend time listening to the other person’s concerns. Don’t be in a rush. Believe me, by slowing down now, you will be able to go faster later.”

Vengel suggests asking open-ended questions and trying to find a common ground with both parties. “You are building a rapport,” he notes, “which is part of the influence. It’s making yourself more accessible, even more vulnerable in a way, without being passive or giving a lot of ground.”

After establishing a rapport and coming to an understanding about the needs of this person, your next step may be to use Push Energy. Here, says Vengel, is where you tell the other person what you need. This may be a more assertive approach or it may be more subtle. For example, instead of telling Sheila that she needs to start inviting you to her staff meetings, a softer approach could be saying, “You know one suggestion I have that might be useful is that I could come to our staff meetings.” Another Push Energy strategy is explaining the downside of not doing what you have requested, but you need to make sure it doesn’t sound like a threat, but that it is a more realistic assessment of the consequences.

And when you finally come to an agreement, summarize it on paper, right then, and have the other party look at it. Don’t wait until you get back to your office and send an e-mail later. If there is any discrepancy in what is written down, taking care of it while you both are still together will make any discrepancy much easier to clear up.

A few other tips

If you are given new information or new reasons why your idea would not work, don’t be afraid to reevaluate your proposal.

When you hit a brick wall with someone, stop the meeting and give both of you time to think about it and how you could find ways to compromise.

Be a good negotiator. HR people, says Vengel, need to be negotiators because they often don’t have a lot of authority and are looking for cooperation and compliance. If you have a policy that must be put in place and the other person balks, see if you can find ways to compromise to make it work. Maybe Frank would be more inclined to set the policy in motion if you gave him 90 days, instead of 60. See where you can find common good.

HR Tool Box

Attaining Influence Skills

Old-school, top-down organizational behavior won’t cut it anymore. Direct chain-of command hierarchies are obsolete, fast giving way to networked, team-oriented organizations. To be successful, the ability to control is a must. You have to build alliances and persuade people, not boss them around.

The ability to influence people isn’t something you’re born with; it’s a skill anyone can acquire. You need to develop the influence skills needed to enlist the cooperation of others, inside and outside the organization, to achieve your professional goals.

Here are five good reasons for attaining influence skills … no matter what you do!

  • Old–fashioned formal authority just doesn’t cut it anymore. Organizations are flatter, work is done more as a team effort, and everyone has a say. Direct control over others is limited.
  • Your ability to influence is directly related to your success at work.
  • It’s more important than ever to approach situations with both a well-thought-out plan and the flexibility to adapt it to meet others’ needs as well as your own.
  • In our flatter work world, you’re expected to know how to work with other people so that everyone’s goals are met.
  • Well-honed influence skills help you:
    • Get work done faster
    • Reduce conflict
    • Relieve stress
    • Demonstrate that you are a team player
    • Be a better negotiator
Get Influence &             Negotiating Tips
Books by Alan Vengel

20 Minutes to a Top Performer™
Read A Section PDF
Three Fast and Effective Conversations to Motivate, Develop, and Engage Your Employees The Influence Edge™
How to Persuade Others to Help You Achieve Your Goals


Everything I Need to Know about Sales I Learned from My Garden