Convincing vs. Influencing: Which one do you tend to do?

Convincing is not the same as influencing. Although you may use the same facts and suggestions, only one is likely to work.

People stuck in convincing
Eugenio Marongiu/AdobeStock

I was facilitating an exercise in a leadership class. One manager was describing how he saw a problem at work. We were exploring his perceptions, assumptions, and what was in his control to change. A colleague, impatient with the process, interrupted to tell the manager what conditions he must accept. The manager tried to argue, but his colleague was stuck on convincing the manager he had no choice. I interrupted and asked the manager if anything his colleague said changed his mind. He answered, “Worse, he just hardened my position.”

No matter how right you know you are, the person you want to convince may never hear your facts and logic.

When you disagree with someone, they have to WANT to hear your point of view. Otherwise, you are wasting your breath.

There are four things you can to do to move from convincing to influencing people to consider what you have to offer:
1) set an emotion-based intention,
2) trust their intent,
3) hold the person in positive regard, and
4) manage your reactions.

1) Set a positive emotion-based intention

Your needs and emotions will impact the conversation even if you have been trained to put on a poker face. The person must “feel” your intentions are in their best interest throughout the conversation and beyond. As soon as you shift to wanting them to learn something or change because you think they should, they will feel pushed. They will see you as stuck on convincing instead of working to find a solution. They will either become defensive or shut down instead of open up.

If they let you win the argument, it’s not real. You just get the last word in.

Even if a broader goal will be met, you must have an emotional intention focused on either helping the person achieve the result they need or on maintaining a healthy relationship. Clearly state this intention up front – define the outcome you want to help the person achieve before you state the facts you want them to know. People need to feel you genuinely care about their desires or they will assume you just want them to think like you.

If you get triggered in the conversation, take a breath and remind yourself that you value your relationship before you respond to their words.

2) Trust their intent

Even if the person disagrees with you or you are angry because they hurt your feelings, assume they did not intend to hurt you. When you assume that the other person was doing what they thought was right at the time, it’s easier to feel compassion and patience.

3) Hold the person in positive regard

An open conversation requires a feeling of mutual respect. Do what you need to do to rebuild a feeling of respect before your enter the conversation. They will not hear you if you “know better” and talk as if they are ignorant. Even if you disagree with their perspective, honor the person anyway. Then ask if you can share your opinion or something you learned from past experience. Offering an opinion is easier to hear than presenting facts that make someone wrong or inadequate.

4) Manage your reactions

If you go into the conversation feeling calm and centered, you are able to watch yourself react to others.

Notice when you begin to feel irritated and want to defend your point of view. Exhale – let the tension subside. This will help you relate your opinion to their perspective.

Notice the urge to interrupt or even insult the person. Return to your feeling of positive regard.

Does the person’s aggressiveness make you feel like giving up? Recall the positive intention you had for the conversation in the first place. Restate your intention before you respond to the person.

Do your best not to get tangled in their reactions. If you are calm, comfortable. and present to the other person, you will see opportunities to acknowledge their ideas and encourage exploration.

Find a routine that works for you to quickly relax your body and mind. While talking, notice if any part of your body tenses up or your brain fills up with criticism. Release the tension. Clear your mind. Breathe into your belly.

When you are fully present, you are better able to accept their point of view and ask them if they are willing to consider a different perspective. If they are open to hear you, they may come to accept your logic. Then you are in the position to influence them with your ideas, opinions, and perspective from lessons learned.

You can’t convince a closed mind, but you can influence someone once they open up to you.


10 thoughts on “Convincing vs. Influencing: Which one do you tend to do?”

  1. perfectly stated. I believe this should be required reading for everyone today…particularly in the political arena. How can we create a strong nation if we only hunker down into our “facts”. Along with holding the person in positive regard is also having this mindset: “I mean you no harm.” My mother use to say, “Believe none of what you hear and only 1/2 of what you see.” By this she meant that conversation and mutual discovery are prerequisites for understanding.

    1. I agree Eileen, we have to move away from thinking we are being attacked (and wanting to attack) to the desire of mutual discovery. And yet, as your mother’s statement shows, we have been facing this dilemma for a long time. I hope we can come together someday out of good sense and not a big disaster. Wishful thinking?

  2. Ralph Aufheimer

    In this ever increasing polarizing world Marcia’s advice has universal value.
    It would make an ideal gift as a placemat at Thanksgiving or Holiday dinners
    to bring civility into the conversation with family and friends

  3. Some people may read this and think to themselves… “this is not rocket science”, until they actually try to practice what you teach Marcia. Managing emotions and being aware of our own triggers when trying to influence is very difficult, especially when dealing with a “DOER” type; they only want the facts and direct to the point. I will make sure to read this article multiple times and offer it to office staff 🙂
    Thank you Marcia!

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