What are some effective ways to "lead up", or influence without authority? originally appeared on Quora - the knowledge sharing network where compelling questions are answered by people with unique insights.

Answer by Maxim Sytch, Associate Professor of Management, University of Michigan Ross School of Business, on Quora:

  • Use social proof. By and large, humans are lazy decision makers, and we look for easy ways to obtain the information needed to make a decision. Activate social proof by showing that similar others are doing what you are asking the person to do. It assures us that--because others have done it--this is a good course of action. Hotels use social proof to influence us to save water, and companies use it to convince us to buy their products. In presenting an idea to your senior manager, cite examples of how other organizations that are similar to yours have embraced the idea.
  • Activate reciprocity. As social beings, we are generally unwilling to accumulate social debt, but when we do, we feel obligated to reciprocate. Why do nonprofit organizations send you customized address labels, coins, or even bills with the request to donate or fill out a survey? Well, such strategies are quite effective--you are holding something in your hand, and you feel obligated to reciprocate. For example, one study found that including a $5 check with the request for a survey more than doubled the response rate compared to the promise of $50 after completing the survey. So, proactively offer help, resources, or favors to your superiors and build a good bank of favors with them. You may find your subsequent request will be approved.
  • Time your presentation strategically. Have you ever been presenting and feel as if your boss is spacing out? She seems to be listening, but you are concerned she is not registering what you are saying. Well, for your superiors to even engage with your idea and seriously consider it, they need to have a rested and glucose-filled brain. In an extreme case, an inmate's parole request was nearly 7 (!) times as likely to be approved when the judge heard that request right after breakfast, a mid-morning snack, or lunch. So, bring donuts to your presentation or present after a meal or a break. Doing so is likely to increase the odds that your superiors will think deeply about your idea.
  • Signal scarcity. How often do we hear salespeople tell us that this deal is only good for today or a real estate agent telling us that there are two other couples interested in the property? Some realize this is one of the most powerful influence tactics--we want things more when we perceive them as being less available. Scarcity is so powerful that it can produce borderline ridiculous effects. In one study, people liked cookies more when they came from a jar with fewer cookies compared to a jar with more cookies. And yet, they were rating the exact same cookies in both jars. To the extent that you can signal a limited window of opportunity to implement your idea or high demand for a given job candidate, you make them more desirable in the eyes of your superiors and peers.
  • NB: Any of the above mentioned tactics can be misused for pure personal gain or to trick or even hurt others. These behaviors draw the distinction between influencing for positive results and manipulation. Keep this distinction in mind when making influence judgements.

With Scott DeRue, I have developed an entire online course on influence. Check it out if you want to learn more about tactics to influence others, how to build an informal base of power, protect yourself from unwanted influence from others, or think through the ethics of influence.

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