Influencing – How to use soft skills to get hard results

May 28, 2012 | By

Assertive Influencing Approach

There is an authoritative aspect in this approach which has three different elements. One is personal authority, the authority and confidence that comes naturally to some people. Another is the authority that comes with experience and expertise, and the third is the authoritative presence that comes from confldence in your job position and the decision making role that goes with this.

It is important to differentiate this third element, job position, from pure reliance on job status, as a basis for commanding obedience from others. Getting obedience on the basis of your formal authority and job position alone is not an effective influence approach. Having confidence in your job position and having the confidence to make decisions is an assertive approach, but is different to power based use of authority. If you rely exclusively on your formal authority to get things done, then you cannot be said to be influencing others. You are ordering them what to do, and in the long run, you will end up alienating people. There is nothing wrong in using the assertive approach if it is done skilfully and appropriately.


If you use this approach you are likely to be energetic, action oriented and challenging. In debates you are willing to take people on and stick your head above the parapet. You are likely to communicate in an articulate manner, showing confidence in your voice and body language. You adopt an assertive, direct and confident way of influencing. You are clear about where you want to go and what you want to happen. This approach involves more advocacy than inquiry, more telling than asking.

When to use it

The approach works when as well as your formal power you also have the respect of others. This means that you will be listened to because of that respect and relationship and not solely because of your formal hierarchical position. You would be likely also to adopt this approach when people’s health, safety and security are at risk.

It could also prove to be effective when influencing people who lack self-confidence, or you are working with a group of relatively new or inexperienced people, who have little or no knowledge of the organization. The downside is that although using the assertive approach will be effective in the short term, you will not be building their confidence in the long run. The skill here is to know when to use the assertive approach and when to start incorporating the other approaches in order to appeal to and involve others, The real skill is to know when to adjust your approach as people become more experienced. If you remain wedded to the assertive approach it will become less effective and could even be counterproductive.

It can also be used effectively where it fits in with the organizational and national culture. For example, it would work in high power distance cultures, such as China, India, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan where they have structured and hierarchical cultures. Additionally, it will be effective in organizational cultures where a formal, top-down approach is the norm.

The assertive approach will tend to be counterproductive when used with people who are skilled and knowledgeable about the issue being discussed. Especially if you have not established your own expertise or track record and don’t have an effective relationship with them. They will feel that you are pushing things through, and not using their knowledge and experience.

If you choose this approach regularly you should be aware that you are likely to be regarded as ignoring others’ perspectives, and that you may be perceived as closed minded and arrogant and this could ultimately lead to trust and respect issues in your work relationships.

Many people do however, find this approach appealing, because it can be simple and direct and allows people to understand their role and what’s expected of them. But its overuse can breed passivity in your people.

At a personal level it is probably also best where, in addition to your strong belief that your suggestions are correct, you also have significant knowledge and experience. Otherwise . people will think you are just spouting hot air. Failure to succeed using this approach is usually because of the way you convey your message to others. For example your tone of voice might sound peremptory, or you don’t recognize that others have a desire to contribute and you ignore them. You can also fail if you cannot back your case up with sufficient reasons and if you don’t convey to others your level of commitment to and belief in the issue.

As we have said people can find this approach appealing, and will often relate to it and buy in to your point of view when you present a persuasive, articulate and .convincing case for their support. This is especially true if this is linked to a consistency of your behavior in relation to the issue.

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