Getting others to support you, without having authority over them
About this guide
Most of us get into some situation every day, in which we need to get something from someone we have no authority over. And even in situations in which we could choose to call on our authority, we don’t always want to go down that road. In fact, the most effective and sustainable way of getting what we need, is if it is given freely and voluntarily by the other side.
In our free guide, we provide you with the most important theory and practice-proven tips on how you can increase your influencing skills and use trust-based influence to create better outcomes from your interactions with others.
The challenge: getting what you need from anyone without having authority over them
You are standing in front of an administration official and you need an important document urgently.
You are in a meeting with the leadership team of another part of the organization, and you need them to support your project idea.
You are talking with the owner of the apartment you want to rent, and you need them to not only choose you, but also come down with the price.
You are sitting in a performance review with your manager after a year that did not go so well for you, and you need them to trust you to do better next time.
Every day, we are faced with situations in which we are somewhat dependent on the willingness of others to support what we need. It’s just a fact of life, that we cannot simply order everyone around. We need people to help us, support us, all the time. Most of the time, these people owe us NOTHING - not even a favour.
Logic doesn’t work
So we can’t order people around, but surely we can convince them that we are right, that we have priority, that we should be helped, by simply laying out our reasoning to them?
Surely we could explain to the police officer, who stopped us for routine traffic control, the precise logic as to why we were not wearing that seat belt?
Or if we would simply lay out our logical explanation to our peers from another department at work, why they are wrong, and we are right - surely they will understand and change their course of action?
Logic rarely works with people who have a different agenda than your own. And it works even less if we have zero authority over them and no trust-based relationship with them to call on.
Forget logic when you need to influence someone for a better outcome for you.
Fact is, that we interact daily with people who need to FEEL LIKE helping you, or they won’t help at all.
Most decisions are made based on emotion, so our path to better outcomes leads through influencing how they feel about you and about helping you.
People can hurt you by doing nothing
Snarky comments and cutting remarks shoot you right out of the influence sphere - with a one-way ticket. You may feel compelled to engage in behaviour like that, when you feel somewhat superior to the other person - be it logically, intellectually, or morally - and you cannot fathom that they could retaliate in any way.
You’re wrong - most people can and will decide to do nothing at all. Or delay or sabotage you to the best of their abilities, if they so much as “sense” an attitude of superiority in you.
Empathy works. But you need to listen, first
It is impossible to influence someone’s decision, if you don’t understand where they are coming from. But that’s only the fundament for successful influence.
What’s absolutely necessary, is that THEY need to know that they have been understood! People will NOT feel like wanting to help you, if they themselves do not feel understood.
In an argument, when the other side has been telling you what they want, never - ever - say something like “I understand, but..”.
First of all, let’s be honest, this opening in a response will feel disrespectful to anyone. You say that you understand, but within the same second - literally - the usage of “but” is expressing nothing less than that you don’t care and devalue their need in comparison to yours.
If you do this, you only show that you have been listening just to respond, and not to understand. This would simply be rude and ignorant, and the other side will notice this in an instant.
And certainly, you do not give the other side sufficient evidence that you actually understood where they are coming from.
Instead, the right tactic for creating positive influence, is to repeat in your own words what you have heard them say to you. And you have to do that with a complete absence of sarcasm, cynicism, ridicule or any other disrespectful way.
Note, that the fact that you summarise their understanding of a situation back to them, does not mean that you agree with them. Repeating “their” view of the situation serves only one powerful purpose: that they feel understood by you.
When people feel understood, they start to trust you - at least as far as that it has become acceptable to them to reciprocate and be open to hear your side of the story, too.
Likability matters more than you know!
People are 6 times more likely to deal with a person they like, versus a person they do not like.
Six times more likely - that’s a lot! And it’s a lot of leverage you must not ignore when your only way forward is through creating positive influence.
Feeling understood is a cornerstone for liking someone, but it’s not the only puzzle piece necessary for getting on someone’s good side.
So how do we achieve that?
As discussed further up this guide, first of all we need to refrain from any behaviour that disrespects the other side. Cynicism, sarcasm, ridicule, superiority. Insults, expressions of anger, bad jokes, … pretty much anything that would not make you feel great either, if the roles were reversed.
In addition, watch your body language and gestures. This may be hard for you to do, but your body language is betraying the words that you’re saying - and the other person will feel it immediately.
Defusing negative emotions towards you
Sometimes it’s not your fault. Your counterpart may have a bad day, is tired and overworked, and just got a call from the kinder garden that they have to pick up their kid, which is not feeling well.
And there you come walking into their office, obviously wanting something from them - probably the last thing they needed right now!
Whatever you want from them, they are not in the mood of giving it to you right now.
Your best option in a situation like this is to deploy empathy, and say out loud what they might be thinking.
When we say it out loud, whatever negative emotions the other person might be feeling against you right now, we practically defuse them right then and right there - just by stating those out loud and bringing those into the open.
Assuming you are observant enough to notice their state of mind, try saying something like this:
“Ahhh great… and here I just walk into your office, completely unannounced.” (in a tone as if you are accusing yourself). “I must be the last person you want to see right now.” (with an empathetic tone).
“I have given you no reason to trust me. I am a stranger after all. I guess if the roles were reversed, I would be denying my own request. I am probably completely foolish to think you would hear me out.”
Or with a bit of humor:
“Where can I submit my photo for the “Idiot Customer of the Month”? I suppose you must think I am being completely unreasonable coming in here to return this product, despite my receipt went missing. You probably wished your customers had more common sense.”
Whatever you say, it needs to express the negative emotions the other person might have towards you in that moment. What’s incredibly important for this to work - in defusing the negative emotion - is that you stop talking after you said what you said, and give it a moment for the self-accusation to do its job in the mind of the other person.
There will be situations in which this is not sufficient for the other side to change their attitude towards you, but it’s your best bet, should you catch someone in a bad moment.
Once again, this kind of self-accusation is pure empathy at work - you are demonstrating that you understand the other person and how they feel.
More often than not, this is a magic door opener into a much more favourable position for creating positive influence with someone.
Using influence in a stalemate situation
Now, sometimes, you are in a situation where you need someone to help you, and the other person needs you to help them - but unfortunately you both want different things or have different priorities.
Things are at a stalemate, unless someone gives.
You will find this kind of situation often in the workplace: it’s one of those typical situations, where people or departments have competing priorities and guidelines. These situations can often be purely political. As much as people like to emphasize that they are against politics in the workplace, they still play politics a lot.
Typically, both sides will make attempts to convince the other side about them being right, and the other side being wrong, by using all sorts of logical argumentation, charts and statistics to solidify their position. To no avail, of course.
Following this phase having been unsuccessful for either side, usually both sides are starting to look for allies, and then people and departments usually go to war with each other. The competing priorities have evolved into a conflict that is then being politicised. Sounds familiar?
It could have been avoided early in the process, if one side would have been a skilled influencer.
If one side would have been able to put aside their ego for a moment, and made use of empathy towards the other side - made them feel respected and truly understood - they would have succeeded in opening them up to listening.
The good news is, that most conflicts can still be resolved in exactly the same way. The mechanisms are the same as early in the process. It may only seem a bit harder, because over time egos tend to inflate, if a situation has been heating up over an extended period of time.
You got the other side to be open - how do you use influence from there to get what you need?
Congratulations: if you have been listening, have made the other side feel truly understood, and have defused any potential negative emotions towards you - so you have been doing well! But what now?
You still need the other side to give to you something that you need without having any authority over them!
It is now time to provide the other side with a lens into your view of the situation. The trick is to invite the other side into empathetically sympathizing with your needs.
If that’s done right, and the other side has any leeway, and room for accommodating your needs, they will. The secretary will find a free slot in her boss's calendar. The policeman will reduce your fine (if he can). The other departments you have been fighting with will turn from adversary to ally.
A lens into your view of the world
One of the most efficient ways of inviting others to see a situation with your eyes, is to give them your problem to solve. But first you have to provide a factual insight into your situation. People need context, before they can identify and emphasize with your problem.
Tell your side of the story, give context, but briefly, and without drama.
Now you need to hand over your problem to the other person. Smart ways of doing this would be in using formulations such as for example:
“As you can see now, I seem to have manoeuvred myself into some sort of terrible impasse. If you were me, what would you advise me to do from here?”
“You must think I should have avoided the problem much earlier on to begin with. How am I supposed to succeed now without your help?”
“After all this, I am now wondering if there is any way we could both get what we need. You seem to be much more experienced in this than me - would you care to share what you think would be the right next steps?”
Inviting people into your view of the world and handing them your problem to solve, to them it feels like you trust them. Being open about your situation and sharing your challenge is showing a piece of your vulnerability. Most people will follow an instinct that tells them it’s ok to trust you back a little.
Combined with the fact that the majority of individuals feel a sense of satisfaction if they can help someone, your chances are pretty good that you will end up getting what you need.
That is, if you are a bit flexible on how you get what you need, and if you are not over-estimating the liberties the other side can take in helping you. Don’t be completely unrealistic in your expectations. But in a lot of situations, the other person has a surprising amount of leeway.
What if your best attempts still fail?
Sometimes you have just too little credibility and too little of a relationship with a person, to get them to help you. No matter what you tried, you can’t get the other person to feel like helping you with what you need.
This doesn’t mean you have lost. But it does mean that you need to take the longer road.
And this road leads to establishing rapport with people who have positive influence over the person you really need.
There is no difference how you would go about this with the other people. You would use the exact same approach as outlined before in this guide.
Obviously, you need to find out who they are, and things will go a lot faster and smoother if you already have some sort of positive relationship established with them before.
Which brings us to the next chapter.
Proactively casting net of positive influence
As we said before, people are 6 times more likely to deal with you if they like you. It makes sense to not just start creating relationships - and with that a degree of influence - by the time you really need someone’s help.
Not all situations lend themselves well to this tactic. Some encounters are spontaneous and unforeseeable, but in a workplace, this strategy is very viable!
In order to proactively cast a net of positive influence, you need to adopt a few important habits and behaviours into your daily routine:
Giving something of value without expecting anything in return
Whenever you can identify a moment in which you can easily help someone around you, do it. Don’t make any comments that sound like the other person now owes you back a favor. In fact, if the other person tries to pay you back, simply refuse.
“Something of value” can range from sharing a piece of information that the other person needs, making an introduction to someone else who can help, helping the office manager to move a few boxes for a few minutes, having words of encouragement for someone who feels insecure, complimenting someone sincerely for an achievement that seemed important to them, offering to help a colleague with a presentation, etc. Things that are of value to someone else often aren’t expensive - neither in time, nor money. Watch out for these opportunities and use them.
Develop and demonstrate genuine curiosity for the people around you
It’s a core need for people to feel acknowledged and respected. Make it a habit of giving that to them whenever an opportunity for doing so comes up. For example, when you overhear a conversation at the coffee machine and someone is telling about their hike during the weekend, stay a moment and show interest in their journey. For example, ask them if they discovered a new favorite place. Tell them you notice how excited they seem. Ask them if they can recommend the hike for a beginner such as yourself.
Just show genuine interest in their story.
The key is to put the other person front and center. It’s not about you at this moment. Don’t lead or interrupt with your own hiking experience, and don’t - god forbid - tell you you were on a hike much more interesting than their own! Nobody likes people who have done it all, or try to minimize your experience with their superiority. Remember: you want to make the other person feel acknowledged and respected.
Don’t be tactical in your choice of people
There is a difference between genuinely curious in people, and shameless brown-nosing. The latter is always visible to others, and for most people this is a highly despicable behaviour. If you chose to hang around high status people exclusively, and dismiss everyone else, it becomes pretty clear to everyone that you are being insincere and tactical.
In addition, being tactical in your choice of relationships at work is pretty short-sighted. You never know whose help or support you are going to need in the future, and if it simply is their advocacy that may weigh in to your favour at some point.
Instead, simply be kind and curious about everyone you have an opportunity to meet. It doesn’t have to be a major time investment on your part. A few kind words go a very long way.