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Will Hutton

Will Hutton

Principal, Hertford College, Oxford University and chair of the Big Innovation Centre

Tuesday 20 Nov 2012
Top 10 ways to be influential in HR

Top 10 ways to be influential in HR

Influencing people is more vital than ever in today’s challenging and uncertain work environment. Using your influence positively, liaising with others and getting things done through other people are all critical for your success in working life today. Fiona Dent explains how to get people to co-operate and listen to your ideas. 


Being influential demands much more than simply knowing your stuff and being an expert in your area. Influencing is both a leadership and relationship skill. Influencing isn’t rocket science but neither is it easy. In addition to knowing your topic, it’s largely about recognising the importance of using soft skills to get hard results.

 Here are 10 practical tips to help develop your influencing credibility, capability and reputation – and contribute to getting the results you want. 

1. Be patient Influencing is a process, not an event or a one-off occurrence. Most discussions take place over a period of time, involve multiple stakeholders and are affected by our current experience of the people concerned. The impression they have had of us in previous conversations and our ability to enter into a meaningful dialogue with them are essential to achieving a successful outcome. 

2. Active listening It is easy to fall into the trap of simply advocating your own views and ideas on any issue you are seeking to influence – but it is much better to gather intelligence about the other stakeholders’ perspectives. Listening to what they have to say gives you the opportunity to consider their perspectives and decide how best to incorporate this knowledge and information into the issue. 

3. Flexibility You need to be able to adapt to others’ ideas. Lack of flexibility is one of the fatal traps that influencers can fall into. By definition, influencing usually means you have a point of view about a topic and your aim is to get others to buy into this view. But they will have their own opinions on the subject – so it is important to go into any discussion with the mindset that you might have to flex your ideas and approach to achieve a mutually acceptable outcome. 

4. Build, link and develop ideas together This is one way of demonstrating your flexibility. By listening to others’ ideas and identifying possible connections to your own – or even adopting new ideas that support your goals and perspective – you can link, build and develop together. The best way of doing this is to mention the person’s name to show them that you are building and linking with them. For example: "I like John’s idea and I’d like to build on it by…" 

5. Show your understanding It is important to establish common ground. This can also be regarded as the second stage to building and linking. Once you have made the link, you will need to demonstrate authenticity by regularly asking the other parties what their view is about things so far. 

6. Check that understanding Having reached an appreciation of others’ point of view, you need to keep it. Check that people are still with you – that they are moving along with you, and roughly in the same direction. Summarising at regular points through the process – either verbally or in writing – will help ensure you are all aligned and, if not, will highlight any differing views. This will give you time to work through any problems that emerge. 

7. Express yourself fluently Influencing involves both hard and soft skills. It is about emotion as well as facts. When you are involved in any influencing discussion, simply expressing the facts, data and research about a subject is not enough. You also have to show your feelings and emotions through your non-verbal behaviour and body language. This demonstrates your credibility, authenticity and genuine understanding of others’ perspective. 

8. Be enthusiastic Showing energy and enthusiasm about the issue or topic is one way of expressing yourself fluently. 

9. Remember the unextinguished fire When you are influencing it is important to ensure that you are bringing everyone along with you – or at least recognising those who are not aligned and why. If you are not aware, they will be like the smouldering ember remaining in the grate and could reignite doubts in others. Checking understanding regularly will help to avoid this happening. 

10. Above all, plan and prepare Lack of planning and preparation is probably the most frequently cited reason for influencing failure. And the usual excuse is time. My question is: do you have time not to plan and prepare? Think about who is involved, all the stakeholders, what’s in it for them, how will you influence them, what style, skills and processes will you use? 

Fiona Dent is director of executive education at Ashridge Business School. She is co-author with Mike Brent of The leaders’ guide to influence: how to use soft skills to get hard results, published by FT Prentice Hall