Building your influencing skills and mastering the art of persuasion

As a business owner, you are often the face of the business at every turn. Whether you’re dealing with customers, suppliers, partners or staff, what you do matters and sets the tone for your whole business.

How successful you are often comes down to how good you are at persuading and influencing people. With these skills being so important, we asked behaviour expert, Ally Yates, to outline how you can become more persuasive in business.

The ability to influence is vital for business owners

Arguably, the most important skill to be nurtured and leveraged in a growing business is influencing. For example, it’s needed to win new customers, increase your share of wallet in existing customers, shape the direction of the business or a team and positively shift the performance of a colleague.

One of my colleagues, Robbie Macpherson, helpfully defined influencing as: “Moving someone from position A (where they are now) to position B (where you want them to be.”

If you’re thinking this sounds deceptively simple, you’re right. There’s a little more to it. The journey from A to B is rarely straightforward. This is because people are often resistant to our ideas.

It’s worth investing some time identifying what those sources of resistance – both real and perceived – might be. Forewarned is forearmed.

Listing these challenges helps you to gauge just how tough your influencing task might be. If resistance is high it can be smart to identify a series of small steps to help your target shift towards Position B.

Research on influencing highlights as many as nine different styles. Most of us has a default style, one we feel most comfortable using. However, effective influencing means selecting the most appropriate style and executing it well.

Push style influencing

The two most frequently used styles are Push and Pull. Each style is behaviourally distinctive and each is appropriate for different situations. The Push style goes like this:

  1. I have an idea or opinion that I share with you
  2. I tell you the reasons why it’s a good idea and/or why I’m correct
  3. You agree and you move your position.

Behaviourally speaking, Push style is characterised by three specific verbal behaviours:

  1. Proposing Content (suggesting an idea);
  2. Giving Information (providing the rationale); and
  3. Shutting Out (talking across others).

The solution comes from the influencer and it’s the influencer who does most of the talking.

Push style persuasion is the most commonly used, and yet it’s only effective around half the time. Being right isn’t necessarily persuasive.

Push pays off where you are accepted to be the expert, where you have the authority, where time is of the essence and where there’s only one solution. There’s a time and a place for Push and it’s nothing to do with tone.

Pull style persuasion

build influencing skills in business

Pull style persuasion uses three different behaviours:

  1. Seeking Proposals (e.g. How should we best do this?),
  2. Seeking Information (e.g. Who has the relevant experience?) and,
  3. The rare but highly prized skill of Building – extending or developing a proposal made by another person.

Building is used much less frequently than is warranted. This is usually because the persuader is much more interested in his own ideas and fails to harness the suggestions of others. Exercising Pull style goes like this:

  1. Ask the other people for their ideas
  2. They offer some options
  3. Then ask them some questions to explore their suggestions
  4. Build on their suggestions
  5. Together, agree a way forward.

When to Push and when to Pull

I once had a boss, let’s call him Tom, a serial start-up founder who suffered from misinterpreting these two influencing styles. He perceived Push as aggressive and because he had a need to be liked, he opted for Pull style most of the time, yet the results were often disastrous.

His sin was to use Pull in situations where he had a preconceived solution which he failed to declare. He was inauthentic and unskilled.

Where Pull style is used with a hidden agenda there’s a high risk of the other person feeling manipulated. This bogus consultation also undermines trust in the influencer.

People were always suspicious of Tom’s motives and the distrust led to a reluctance to collaborate with him and to commit to the business.

Pull style can be effective when influencing upwards. After all, it’s not easy to tell your boss what to do! It’s also useful in fostering collaboration which is critical in a high growth business. Furthermore, Pull style is the basis for effective selling which is, after all, simply a stylised form of persuasion.

Pitching with Pull style persuasion

In pitching for new work, here are 5 steps to help you execute a successful Pull style strategy:

  1. Identify the buyer’s Position A and your Position B
  2. Next, consider all the customers’ reasons to resist and eliminate or plan how to mitigate
  3. Identify the questions you can ask to help your customer explore the downsides of staying at Position A
  4. Then identify the questions you can ask to explore the value to the customer in moving to Position B
  5. Finally, identify the background questions you need to ask because the information isn’t available in the public domain.

Influencing skills

The best sellers are often described as ‘consultative’, ‘interested’ and ‘professional’. These badges of honour are earned by the salesperson’s ability to lead with questions.

In a small business where sales expertise may be in short supply, knowing the power of the Pull style can help you in both your sales planning and your sales meetings.

Whilst Push style is the default for most people, and the style of choice in a distinct selection of circumstances, developing a Pull style is an essential counter-balance and will help you in engaging others, both internally and in the market.

Both styles are based on verbal behavioural skills. As with developing any skill, knowing what to do, practising it and getting feedback make for a stronger performance and an increased likelihood of success.

This guide has been written exclusively for ByteStart by Ally Yates, author of ‘Utter Confidence: How what you say and do influences your effectiveness in business’ and an expert on Behaviour Analysis and the interactions that define us. Ally is an independent consultant, facilitator, trainer and coach. Find out more at

Last updated: 21st February, 2021

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