Leadership requires moving people from point A to point B. How effectively a  leader uses “hard” or “soft” influence tactics determines how well others are influenced to move or change their current direction.

The difference between a hard influence tactic and a soft influence tactic is the amount of freedom a person has to say no to the attempt to influence. The harder an influence tactic is, the more it resembles a military order or command to be followed without question.  Softer tactics seek to internally motivate a person to follow leadership to point B. While hard influence tactics get results, they can create a relational strain that makes future attempts to influence more difficult. On the other hand, using soft influence tactics in a crisis situation can result in delayed behavior.

The Eleven Tactics of Influence

The effective leader needs as many influence tactics at her or his disposal as possible. The University of Nebraska recently published eleven key influence tactics, listed from hard (direct, authoritative) to soft (indirect, collaborative):         

1. Pressure   

Seeks influence through demands, threats or intimidation to convince others to comply with a request or to support a proposal.

2. Assertiveness       

Seeks influence through includes repeatedly making requests, setting timelines for project completion or expressing anger toward individuals who do not meet expectations.

3. Legitimating       

Seeks influence through persuading others that the request is something they should comply with given their situation or position.  

4. Coalition  

Seeks influence through the aid of others to persuade them to do something or uses the support of others as an argument for them to agree.            

5. Exchange  

Seeks influence through making explicit or implicit a promise that others will receive rewards or tangible benefits if they comply with a request or reminds others of a favor that should be reciprocated.   

6. Upward Appeals

Seeks influence through the approval/acceptance of those in higher positions within the organization prior to making a request of someone.   

7. Ingratiating         

Seeks influence through getting others in a good mood or to think favorably of them before asking them to do something.           

8. Rational Persuasion      

Seeks influence through logical arguments and factual evidence to persuade others that a proposal or request is viable and likely to result in task objectives.   

9. Personal Appeals            

Seeks influence through others’ compliance to their request by asking a “special favor for them,” or relying on interpersonal relationships to influence their behavior.       

10. Inspirational Appeals  

Seeks influence through making an emotional request or proposal that arouses enthusiasm by appealing to other’s values and ideals, or by increasing their confidence that they can succeed.   

11. Consultation      

Seeks influence through involving others’ participation in making a decision or planning how to implement a proposed policy, strategy or change.        

While all eleven tactics will need to be draw upon depending on the situation at hand, the influence tactics occurring later on the list above are more effective at influencing others long-term.


The Responses

With each attempt at influence, the influencer will receive one of three responses to a tactic:

1. “No.”

Resistance or outright defiance of the attempt to influence will occur

2. “Yes , but…”

A mixed response is received where external compliance is given, but internally there is and attitude of continued resistance..

3. “YES!”

An outright agreement and commitment to the behavior the influencer is seeking is offered.

The most effective leaders move his or her followers towards the third response., gaining intrinsic buy-in to the behavior seeking to be influenced and reducing the amount of energy needed for external constraint.  

Different Contexts Call for Different Tactics

The art influencing is to know what situation calls for what tactic. It is crucial for leaders and managers to understand the range of influence tactics they have available, know when and how to use them, and sharpen their skills so that they can influence others effectively. Effective influencers know when to use authoritative, hard tactics and when to use soft tactics, when to ask and when to tell, and when to take over and when to let go.

A child who runs into a busy street doesn’t need consultation or inspirational appeals, nor does the employee who has been found to be guilty of sexual harassment. A more direct, hard tactic is appropriate in both cases, as these actions must be immediately stopped.

On the other hand, seeking to influence donors to give more to a non-profit ‘s cause cannot be accomplished with legitimating, pressure or assertiveness tactics.  In fact, shifting a donor from a giver-because-of-a-emergency to a true ongoing, donor-investor requires inspirational appeals, where internal attitudes are changed.

Finally, if an employee is seeking to influence a boss, the consultation tactic is undoubtedly the strongest option, as one cannot expect leaders to merely comply with a command issued by a subordinate.

"Leadership is a conscious choice to act out of a deep sense and awareness to one's situation and surroundings."

~ Dr. Karen Keller

How Do Leaders Get More Adept at Using the 11 Influence Tactics?

The ability of a leader to use each of the 11 Influence Tactics will largely depend on his or her degree of development of the Seven Influence Indicators®. These influential aptitudes will determine what is the typical go-to tactic for the leader.

The Seven Influence Traits® are:

  • Confidence
  • Commitment
  • Empowering
  • Courage
  • Passion
  • Trustworthiness
  • Likeability

If the influencer is deficient in one of the seven influence traits, the tactics available to influence others become limited. In contrast, if the leader is exceedingly strong in a given trait, he or she may overuse the corresponding influence tactics.

For example, a low empowerment trait score points to the fact that the influencer will not use the consultation tactic effectively. There will be a fear to release control to others that serves to limit the softer tactics of influence.

A low confidence/courage score combination represents an aversion to conflict, making the pressure and assertive tactic more difficult to execute.  A high combination score on these traits ensures that a leader will feel comfortable to use hard tactics as necessary.  An extremely high score might serve as a warning to resist the natural tendency using hard tactics when soft tactics are called for.

It is important to know your strengths and weaknesses in each trait, and to have these top-of-mind as you are called to lead. Knowing your natural tendencies to select a certain tactic will help you wisely answer the key action question:

            Which tactic should I use in this scenario?

Gaining a clear answer to this question is a much better approach than to jumping to the first tactic that comes to mind.

Good News. Influence Traits Can Be Developed to Open Up the Full Arsenal of Influencing Tactics

Because each of the influencing tactics will be needed throughout one’s life, it is imperative that all the tactics can be used as effectively as possible. To use them effectively, one must know his or her aptitudes as seen in The Seven Influence Traits®.

The Keller Influence Indicator® provides a current measurement of an influencer’s abilities in each of the Seven Influence Traits®. By understanding strengths and weaknesses in each of the traits, leaders gain a clear picture of their ability to influence others.

Influence aptitudes are not static. By initiating an intentional growth plan with the proper growth tools, each trait can be developed.  Research on Keller Influence Indicator® results taken over time clearly shows that a notable increase in any given trait score is possible. With this growth, each influence tactic can be more effectively brought to bear on a given situation.

Any person desiring to have the broadest influence possible needs to strongly focus on developing the Seven Influence Traits® to make each of the 11 Influence Tactics as natural and effective as possible.  By growing the seven traits, you will be able to have the 11 Influence Tactics at your full disposal. 


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From regional manager to international executive with quadruple the pay, Karen Keller’s unique blueprint carefully outlined the step-by-step process for creating high-impact influence and let me know when I was being influenced in a way that didn’t serve me.
Lloyd Moore
Global Director Supplier Quality & Development - Lear Corporation – South Carolina