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How to develop your influencing skills


Flatter organisations require managers to influence a wider range of people. James Shirreff provides some tips on how to influence.

Today, traditional, top-down management has largely been replaced by flatter, matrix based structures. Successful managers now need to be proficient in influencing a wide variety of people. These may be colleagues within their division, the wider organisation or beyond and include external partners and suppliers. 

"The more you know about them, their culture, world and their expectations, the better prepared you will be when you sit down and begin the negotiation."

Many may be geographically distant, come from different backgrounds and cultures and not necessarily have exactly the same goals, objectives or perspectives. As a result, it is vital that managers and colleagues in other key roles are equipped with the skills and techniques needed to build and maintain those relationships.  Here areseven steps to help start developing influence skills:

1 Formalise influence training

Managers now have multiple reporting lines or few direct reporting lines. Line managers may also be based in a different geographical location and come from an unfamiliar culture. For this type of matrix to be successful, it is vital that both parties understand and can use influence and negotiation techniques to handle multiple and sometimes conflicting objectives and targets. Formalising the process to allow colleagues to learn these key influencing skills, particularly in an intercultural context, is essential. 

2 Build relationships

Given the geographical and cultural diversity of today’s working teams, a traditional "command" management style will probably not be effective. Excellent influencers often have little positional power. Without influence skills, they simply can’t "make it happen" so they first need to build the relationships that influence their colleagues to ensure a successful outcome. 

This is particularly so in an international context where commitment to a relationship is a key factor. The parties must trust each other before business is undertaken. To want to continue to negotiate with a long-term business partner, both parties must also see a value in developing a relationship with each other beyond the mere buying or selling of a product or service. 

3 Consider culture

In our global world, often the simple fact that people have different backgrounds and come from different countries is overlooked. Ensuring people have an awareness of cultural differences, being aware of the effect these differences might have and managing these with sensitivity are necessary for business transitions to go smoothly.

4 Create win-win situations

By sharpening the skills of influence and negotiation in an intercultural context, not only can people become more successful in achieving positive results from others, but they can also achieve this in a way that is mutually beneficial to all concerned. A truly win: win result means future transactions will be easier and more likely to yield even better results.

5 Be prepared

Preparing carefully for any negotiation is crucial. You need to build up a picture of your partners. The more you know about them, their culture, world and their expectations, the better prepared you will be when you sit down and begin the negotiation. How are you going to move with them towards the deal? What will encourage or motivate them to move? The more answers to these questions you have, the better prepared you will be when the talking begins.

6 Variables

Before you get to the negotiating table decide which issues are variables and decide your priorities. What must you absolutely achieve and what can you afford to concede? It is helpful to look at the widest bargaining range on all the variables that would keep all parties at the negotiating table. 

We usually assume that their priorities are a mirror image of ours. In fact this is rarely the case: the key here is to look carefully at what is driving them and their priorities as well as your own when preparing for the negotiation. 


The key to a successful negotiating style is SOPHOP:  Soft on the person, hard on the points. You can and should be very tough on the points under discussion. You should want to move them as much as you can. You should be very clear on your objectives and how you will achieve them, but, at the same time, you should devote as much energy and effort in developing and strengthening your relationship with your partner. This is how the successful negotiator achieves agreement. 

James Shirreff is an associate trainer with Farnham, a world leader in intercultural business skills training and global mobility programmes. It provides a range of face to face, live web- based and podcast format programmes designed to provide the cross- cultural skills and understanding required to be more effective in the global business environment. For information visit:

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