Influence Without Authority

The aim of every form of organization should be to seek the methods

by which power can be increased in all – Mary Parker Follett


I’ve trained thousands and, whenever I ask people to define the word power, they always describe the word discretion.  They define power as a person’s ability to make choices about his own interests and then impose those choices on others.  Power is always seen as control, and I’ve heard the same definition on three continents.


Even though I hear this definition everywhere, I see two major problems with it.  The first problem is what I call the “illusion of control.”  This illusion is the all too common belief (despite a mountain of contrary evidence) that you can control people’s behavior and results if you bring your power to bear in just the right way. (for more information on this problem please see Get Beyond the Illusion of Control).


The second problem is even more serious.  For most people, their most important business relationships don’t permit even the illusion of control – because how do you control your boss or client or colleague from another department or the vendor who is more concerned about his own management than about you?  Simply, I believe that if you want to accomplish anything important in modern organizations you must learn how to Influence Without Authority.


So, just what are the skills for Influence Without Authority?  We teach people to follow this simple five-step script.

  1. Describe the issue or choice
    “I want to discuss a possible solution to our client’s problem”
  1. Stipulate and test the other person’s interests
    “With this client, I think you’re concerned about three key factors – achieving measurable results against the client’s goals, delivering on commitments for time and money, and delivering a solution that can be scaled across the entire organization.  Are those interests correct?”
  1. Make a valuable offer and ask for the person’s commitment
    “Let me show you how my proposal will address these three factors a deliver a valuable solution.” (directly connect your proposal to their interests)
  1. Surface and understand resistance
    “Can you help me understand specifically why this idea doesn’t work for you? (ask questions to uncover critical interests that haven’t been addressed)
  1. Create an action plan
    “Now that we have an agreement, let’s plan next steps.” (create an action plan that the other person believes can work)


When you define your offer, make sure you address three critical questions people ask themselves before they choose to commit.

  • Is your offer compelling? (does it address a critical issue or interest)
  • Is your offer valid? (will it work the way you claim)
  • Can it be implemented? (do I believe I can do what you want me to do)


When you describe your offer, use information that enables the other person to make an independent and informed decision.

  • Don’t use information the other person doesn’t understand
  • Don’t use examples or cases the other person cannot test.
  • Don’t make “trust me” claims (“trust me, I know this will work”)
  • Do explain the cause and effect of your proposal (“here are the five steps and precisely how they will create the desired result”)


If you get resistance, make sure to follow use one or more of these skills.

  1. Ask open questions.  The common approach to resistance to put out more information, so you can overcome it.  With this style, we treat resistance as hidden interests that must be surfaced and addressed, so we start with open questions.
  2. Reframe the viewpoint.  Often, people resist ideas or offers because of an existing viewpoint that might be limiting, invalid, or even self-destructive.  Reframing means to offer people a new viewpoint that helps them see the situation and their choices differently.
  3. Manage natural consequences.  Natural consequences are the effects of people’s choices on their interests.  Sometimes, a person’s choices can limit or even hurt his interests in ways that aren’t immediately obvious.  When you can help people see possible effects and offer them different choices, it often removes any resistance.


Virtually everyone we train can develop these skills, yet people often struggle to apply the skills back in the workplace.  Following are a few common roadblocks that you need to recognize, so they don’t block your ability to use these skills.

  • First, recognize that every role in an organization has some influence responsibility, and that influence must be a part of your toolkit.
  • Second, recognize that most people have been conditioned to defer (wait, ask for needs, seek direction) instead of act, but your success demands some type of effective action.
  • Finally, recognize that these skills require regular, persistence practice if you want to make them work for you.