Monday, 10 August 2015

Overt and Covert Influencing

We’ve been running Influencing courses as long as we’ve been running Impact Factory.  I’m sure I’ve said that somewhere before!

Influencing is one of the best skills you can have for all sorts of situations and I’ve written a couple of blogs already this year on Influencing ( June 2015,  March 2015 ). In this one I’d like to focus on the difference between overt and covert influencing.

With overt influencing, everyone knows what’s going on. It’s as though everyone can put their cards on the table and be honest about what they need and what they are able to do.

For instance, if I invite a friend to lunch with the additional purpose of getting him involved in a charity event and I let him know ahead of time my charity’s goals, we both know that discussing the event will be part of our lunch chat. I still need to influence him by listing all the pluses, but I can do it openly and invite his thoughts openly as well.

Similarly, in the workplace, overt influencing means that everyone involved knows what the agendas are, what the goals are and what’s expected. I still have to let people know the pluses of their involvement in whatever I’d like them to do and because it’s all out in the open, there’s a free exchange of ideas. 

Humour plays a big part in overt influencing as does overt bribery; the two go very well together. 

Recently one of our trainers tried to get another colleague involved in something the colleague was reluctant to do and was promised early morning bacon-butties for a week.

Covert influencing, on the other hand, is just that – covert. Cards are not on the table and strategies have to be clearly thought through ahead of time. Covert influencing works particularly well with people over whom you have no direct authority or with whom you don’t necessarily work with all that closely.

The first piece of advice is to lead by example. This sounds obvious but it’s worth reiterating that when people see excellent leadership skills in action, they generally want to be around those that display them. 

Since their agenda and your agenda may be different (you may want to involve a particular person in a project and that person may already be wrapped up in a couple of projects  that have no connection to yours) you have to figure out common ground before you try to influence them. 

Part of being able to identify common ground is being able to see the world from their point of view, which will inevitably be different from yours. Talking to someone using their ‘terms of reference’ and letting them know you have an idea of what’s going on in their work lives demonstrates empathy and understanding, two essential qualities for influencing, whether covert or overt.

Another way of influencing people is to seek their advice.  Firstly, most people like to give their guidance when asked; it’s flattering and can be quite gratifying to help others. Secondly, by seeking and getting advice the people you want to influence are now involved even if on an unconscious level.

If someone asks for my advice I will inevitably go back to them at some point to find out how it’s all going – I’ve been influenced to take more interest simply by being asked my opinion.

The more you can distinguish between overt and covert influencing, the more you will be in charge of the possible outcomes.


Check out Impact Factory’s range of Influencing, Communication and Personal Impact courses and our Elite Five Day Communicate with Impact Training.

By Jo Ellen Grzyb, Director, Impact Factory 

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