Mind over matter

8 Jan 24

Practical advice on how to influence decisions


The key to increasing your influence is to understand how we make decisions.

Armed with this understanding, you can take the right action at the right time to achieve a higher likelihood of achieving the outcome you seek. Whether you work online or face to face, you can apply science-based principles to how you interact with others.

Studies show that we are not very good at knowing what influences people’s decisions. When we try to influence people in the workplace, the most common approach taken is rational persuasion – providing the influence target with logical reasons for taking action. This might seem sensible, but, in fact, it is only successful around 12% of the time. Even worse, we tend to believe that the more logical reasons we give, the more influential we will be.

 Scientific research, however, demonstrates that the opposite is true. In general, humans believe themselves to be far more rational and far less emotional than our behaviour generally demonstrates. Our decisions are much more affected by our emotional state than by our logical reasoning. By understanding simple principles such as these, we can improve our approaches and therefore our ability to influence people and outcomes at work.

Four things to think about:

  1. Prepare authoritative, data-based statements. So long as the argument involves one opinion against another, the person with the higher status will win by group consensus. However, if the lower-ranked person has the relevant statistics and data to support their point, they will increase the authority of their argument.
  2. Demonstrate contextual status factors. You may not walk into a meeting with a physical appearance that communicates high status, but you can increase your perceived status if you can demonstrate contextual status factors, such as overall level of education, prior experience in a specific job role or industry, or quantified expertise in the topic of discussion.
  3. Rather than thinking of dressing to look stylish or formal, think of dressing in line with the status and authority you want to establish. That means you need to reflect on the strengths you wish to portray and ask how that person would dress. While research on status characteristics tells us that attractive people often achieve higher status, be careful as it also shows that more revealing clothing can lead both men and women to rate female candidates as less competent.
  4. Speak up with confidence. Sadly, but truthfully, humans tend to confuse confidence with capability. If you are less inclined to make your voice heard, it is important to recognise that your personality type in no way renders your ideas less worthwhile. However, to generate status and influence for yourself in a professional group, planning to participate early and confidently will help enormously.

Ultimately, the more opportunities people have to experience leaders and successful role models representing a wide and dissimilar range of characteristics, the less that physical factors will wield power in workplace discussions and decisions.

Furthermore, if you are in a position of authority or leadership in a company, having the humility and self-awareness to work on changing these patterns can result in a wider variety of valuable and potentially innovative ideas for your company.

Image Credit | iStock
  • Dr Amanda Nimon-Peters

    Dr Amanda Nimon-Peters is professor of leadership at Hult International Business School

Did you enjoy this article?