Using Assertion to Influence Others

The best way to influence others is to put yourself in their shoes. In our last post, we covered the persuasion cycle, which helps you to outline the statement, value and evidence for adopting your recommendation. In an ideal world the other person should be able to understand when a solution that is in their best interests, but that is not always the case. If the other person is having a hard time responding to you best use of evidence, emotion and rational appeals you may want to try being assertive. This is the concept of saying "do this" constructively, while maintaining a positive and friendly tone. After all, if your aim is to continue working with the other person, you do not want to jeopardise your relationship.

The key difference between persuasion and assertion is the use of time, tension and ownership. Assertion is a six-step process:

1. Define and own the problem This is a crucial first step. Do not proceed unless you have clearly defined and assigned "ownership" of the problem. This eliminates the likelihood of people later denying there is a problem, stonewalling or getting side-tracked.

It does not matter if you own the problem or the responsibility is jointly shared, but it must be stated up front. For example, if the company is not serving clients to the best of its ability, admit that this is a problem. Once that has been done, it is time to focus on the solution.

2. Identify a solution This can be done unilaterally, such as by suggesting that the sales team needs to have more face-to-face contact with clients. The key is to spell out clear and workable solutions. The more direct, succinct and articulate the message, the better the chances of success.

Another option is to use the facilitation approach. Instead of telling people what to do, consider asking them for ideas on how to resolve the problem. If you handle things this way, you must ensure a solution is identified at the time and that decisions are not deferred.

3. Transfer ownership This can be subtle or very direct. However, the party you are dealing with must understand they now own the solution and must take action. If it has been agreed the sales team should spend an extra eight hours a week with clients, this should start without delay. Acceptance of ownership and execution by the other party shows your attempts to influence have worked.

4. Raise tension If the previous steps have not achieved your objective, you may need to raise the level of tension. The vital thing is to be strong, yet subtle. You can do this by rephrasing your message, but with a more assertive tone and gestures.

5. Do not justify Once you start to justify something you are no longer being assertive, but trying to persuade. It is not a mistake and, if you think it work, then adopt this approach. However, if you start persuading someone after trying to be assertive, you may just end up arguing Inconclusively.

Besides, if you start to justify at this point you will appear on the defensive. This will lower the level of tension, and that is the key factor which makes assertiveness effective.

6. Change in tone By raising the degree of tension, you hope to create an opening for the other party to agree. You can spot this by listening for a change in mood, or tone. It might last for only a few seconds. Therefore, pay close attention to any signals and, when you detect a change, repeat the request.

When applying assertion it is important to continue to put yourself in the other person’s shoes and listen closely. Preserving the relationship means knowing when to step back and reduce the tension without justifying the source of the problem. Delivered effectively, assertion become a powerful tool for influencing stakeholders toward positive change.