Influence – What is the Key?

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Who carries the most weight in a group dynamic? Is it the most knowledgeable person or is it the person most socially clued in? We have all been to events, whether personal or professional, where certain people seem to dominate the conversations. There is almost an acceptance that by virtue of an outgoing personality that there is also an implied assumption of knowledgeable.

13097409_blogThat maybe the case on occasion, but certainly not all the time. Research conducted by Bonner and Bollinger actually suggests that in a setting where everybody is encouraged to contribute, the team effectiveness is far greater; it is driven by what they call “Informational Influence”. This was compared with “Social Influence” whereby the more dominant personalities take control and essentially shut out the quieter ones with a net effect of lower group effectiveness. The key finding is that through purposeful engagement of people within teams via gathering information, there is far greater effectiveness rather than by just hoping that “extraversion and confidence” will productively bring everybody together towards a common outcome.

One should also mindful of what the term informational influence actually means. It is not necessarily referring alone to just tangible data (facts and figures), but considers thoughts, feelings, experiences, gender, race, status and opinions as informational cues as well.   This is the true essence of a positive group dynamic.

Leaders, coaches, teachers and parents should be mindful of this. These people tend to have strong personalities and can overly rely on “Social Influence” as they often tend to dominate conversations in pursuit of their desired outcome. However they also need to factor in the importance of the “Informational Influencers” and in so doing build consensus, engagement and accountability.

Influence and Relationships

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When you consider words like power, selling, advocating and negotiating, they all really speak about one’s ability to influence.  The Webster Dictionary defines influence as “the capacity of persons or things to produce affects on others by intangible or indirect means”.  The interesting and somewhat surprising aspect of this definition is the mention of “intangible or indirect means” for achieving a result.  It almost implies that there is something subtle or covert going on.negotiating

In truth, what this essentially is pointing to is the fact that most of us are not moved to do things purely for extrinsic reasons such as tangible rewards.  Motivation guru, Dan Pink suggests that for many activities, particularly as they might pertain to power, selling, advocating and negotiating, it is more the intrinsic factors that are the driving forces.

However research conducted by Sinan Aral, at NYU’s School of Business suggests that the power of influence also has its limitations.  He cites how Ashton Kucher has over 13 million Twitter followers but very few would actually act on what he might suggest.  In other words he has in fact very little influence.

The key, according to Aral, to all this is the connection that exists between the person doing the influencing and the person being influenced.  Think about it, people are more likely to act on the recommendation of somebody they know.  In this context  the missing link within the true power of influence is  the existence of a relationship between parties.

So when you consider how best to exert power, sell product, advocate for a cause or negotiate an outcome, establish some form of connection or relationship first; it will have a huge bearing on your ability to influence the outcome.