21st century finance: Influencing skills

15th Jan 2015
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Completing our three-part series on the interpersonal skills required of modern accountants, Robert Lovell takes a closer look at influencing.

There are many factors that are crucial for influencing others from effective communication, through to active listening and building rapport.


Influencing skills are critical for developing successful business partnerships and for creating the right working environment within your own team. Find out why in each of these sections:

Dale Carnegie, author of ‘How to Win Friends and Influence People', listed the following six ways that may influence people to like you:

  • Be genuinely interested in other people
  • Smile and show friendliness
  • Remember people's names
  • Be a good listener and encourage others to talk about themselves
  • Talk in terms of the other person's interests
  • Make the other person feel important

The following article explores some of these pointers and more generally your ability to sell yourself successfully to the other person.

Emotional intelligence

As explored in more detail in the first part of AccountingWEB’s soft skills series, being successful in an organisation is as much about the ability to get your message across as it is to having the right message.

Emotional intelligence (EQ) refers to the ability people have - we all have it to a greater or lesser extent - to build relationships, be heard and influence others.

To develop EQ it’s necessary to review and develop the following abilities:

1. Self-awareness - recognising a feeling as it happens and knowing your feelings with greater certainty

2. Manage emotions - handling feelings appropriately helps you move forward and develop resilience to recover from setbacks

3. Motivate yourself - marshalling emotions and getting into a ‘flow’ state is essential to achieve goals and develop creativity

4. Recognise emotions in others - empathy is a fundamental people skill to tune into the subtle signals that indicate other people’s needs and feelings

5. Manage relationships - the art of relationships is partly a skill in working with and in managing the emotions of others

Interpersonal effectiveness and leadership in your finance department are built on this final ability.

Influence v persuasion

In the modern finance workplace people have to influence or persuade to gain agreement with their direct reports, managers, other teams, departments, companies or customers to increase success in achieving results.

It’s difficult to achieve results in isolation and with businesses becoming less hierarchical, the ability to get others to accept, support or commit to your ideas is increasingly important.

To be effective in your role you need to be able to affect those around you so that they cooperate with you in achieving your goals, which could mean your boss or manager more senior to you.

Influencing occurs all the time in relationships and is often more about feelings than facts, and largely about how behaviour is perceived and how it affects others.

Influence and persuasion are often confused, and while they may be used to attain the same goal, they are different strategies.

To develop your ability to get others to give you priority or accept your ideas, you need to understand how the approaches are different.

Influence is often unconscious to both parties, has a powerful and long-lasting effect, and Involves feelings and values.

The component parts that make up this approach tend to be an ability to get rapport, matching and modelling, reaching consensus or mutual agreement, and generating feelings of trust and respect.

We influence by understanding ourselves and how others see us and by being able to communicate effectively. Influence is about the messenger.

Persuasion is deliberate and much more obvious, has shorter-lived effects, needs frequent reinforcement and involves more tangible benefits.

To develop these skills, we need to understand this approach in terms of the ability to sell benefits, being able to bargain or negotiate, and generating feelings of worth and value.

We persuade through knowledge of strategies and approaches that may achieve clear, agreed outcomes. Persuasion is more about the message.

Perhaps the fundamental difference is that influence is much more a process, whereas persuasion is the event.

If you can develop influence in your role, you will find it easier to persuade.


There are two ways to communicate with people - emphasise the differences between you and them, or emphasise the things you share.

If you emphasise the differences, you’ll find it hard to establish rapport. If you emphasise what you share, rapport is established and resistance disappears.

All other things being equal, the individual with the widest range of responses will be “in charge” of the communication. If you have more variety in your behaviour than the other person, then you can be in charge of your interactions with that person.

To achieve the necessary variety in your behaviour, you need awareness to know whether your communication is being accepted or rejected; and flexibility so if it's not working, try something else.

Keep trying something until you find what you have to do to get the other person to accept your ideas.

If you want to change another person, you must change yourself. The other person will respond, usually by making some change back.

Pacing a person is meeting the other person where they are; and reflecting what they know or matching some part of their ongoing experience. This is a specific technique for establishing rapport with almost everyone.

Pacing verbal communication strongly influences the depth of rapport you establish with the other person.

The words, phrases and images other people use provide important information about the inner worlds they inhabit.

By pacing speech, you are telling them that you understand and they can trust you, but never mimic them.

The art of influence and persuasion is validating something people already know to be true and then leading them to consider and accept other possibilities.


There are only three elements that are communicated each time we speak:

  • Verbal - word content, vocabulary and intellectual knowledge
  • Vocal - how we sound, vocal delivery
  • Visual - eye contact, facial expression and body language

Research carried out by professor Albert Mehrabian found the degree of inconsistency between these three elements was the factor that determined credibility in face-to-face communication.

If an inconsistent message was given when speaking to another person, his research found that the three elements influenced the listener in the following ratios:

  • Verbal - 7%
  • Vocal - 38%
  • Visual - 55%

If the message is consistent, the figures will change. All three elements will work together and reinforce the message.

The firmness or excitement and enthusiasm of the voice work with the appropriate expression, energy and animation of the face and body, to reflect the conviction and confidence of what is said. Hence the words, voice and delivery are all congruent and the message gets though unambiguously.

Even on the telephone, Mehrabian’s findings still applied that body language and facial expressions were important.

Despite this Mehrabian’s 7%-38%-55% rule has come under scrutiny insofar that it was not a general observation relevant to all communications. Mehrabian reached his conclusion in the context of experiments dealing with communications of feelings and attitudes.

Mehrabian later clarified the point: “Please note that this and other equations regarding relative importance of verbal and nonverbal messages were derived from experiments dealing with communications of feelings and attitudes (i.e., like-dislike). Unless a communicator is talking about their feelings or attitudes, these equations are not applicable.”

In a 2007 blog post Mark Lee concludes that despite this clarification, it’s important to be congruent when we communicate.

“Our body language and tone of voice should be consistent with the words we use. Otherwise we can confuse people and reduce the prospect of getting our message across so that it is understood. We have to take responsibility ourselves for any failure to communicate effectively. It’s OUR fault and not the fault of our listeners,” Lee said.


Most of us have been on the receiving end of people who have tried to persuade us by giving us information, and more often than not, the results could have been better and achieved more quickly had we been actively involved in the process rather than a passive observer.

Trying to persuade people by giving them information is rarely as effective as seeking it. Seeking information has several benefits.

If the other person tells you what they want you stand a better chance of providing it, and people are more likely to accept something they say themselves than something someone else tells them.

Asking questions can be used to involve the other person, find out what is important to them and hence how they are most susceptible to influence.

Finally people make decisions more readily when they are involved in the decision-making process rather than feeling that they are being pressured into it; the decisions will benefit them in some way; and they appreciate the full extent of that benefit.

Further reading:


Replies (1)

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By johnjenkins
18th Jan 2015 17:41

Come on Robert

You don't seriously expect anyone to read this in January do you?

What's next, an article on the future of Bob, by Mark Lee?

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