Influence Strategies

Need to Get Your Boss to Buy In? How to Influence “Up”

When it comes to creating change, it is crucial for your organization, particularly your superiors, to be on board with your ideas, as they are often the ones who decide whether or not to give your project the green light. Many of us stick to our favorite tried-and-true influence strategies of convincing our peers, superiors, or subordinates, but a look into the research might help you find a better approach.

Research conducted by Yukl and Tracey (1992) examined nine different influence tactics and their relative effectiveness. The effectiveness of each strategy also differed depending on whether a peer, superior, or subordinate was being convinced.

The researchers found that regardless of the recipient’s level in the hierarchy, the most effective strategies were:

  1. Using logical arguments
  2. Appealing to values or ideals, and
  3. Seeking the person’s input

The most effective strategy in terms of gaining commitment to a proposed idea, especially from a superior, centered on making logical arguments. This suggests that knowledge and expertise may be the best approach to getting others on board with your proposed ideas. It can also be helpful to show people how your logical ideas resonate with their personal values, and to ask the other person to weigh in with their own input.

While the aforementioned strategies work across the board, there is an additional strategy that can work well only for those at your level or beneath you in the organizational hierarchy. This surprising technique includes using flattery and taking a “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours” approach. While this does work on peers and subordinates, the researchers concluded that when influencing upward, this strategy might be viewed as manipulative.

They also found a handful of techniques that were relatively ineffective regardless of the person being influenced. Ineffective techniques included:  

  1. Using a third-party to pressure the individual
  2. Making demands or threats, and
  3. Appealing to one’s own authority

Although these tactics may be successful at getting an individual to comply with your demands, they will do little to influence the way an individual actually feels about the issue.

So next time you are trying to get someone at work on your side, remember to use logic, appeal to values and ideals, and acknowledge the other person’s input. Focus on leveraging your knowledge and expertise, and avoid using strategies that may make you sound like an unscrupulous used car salesman.

References:

Yukl, G., & Tracey, J. B. (1992). Consequences of influence tactics used with subordinates, peers, and the boss. Journal of Applied Psychology, 77(4), 525–535.