Barking With the Big Dogs - Part III: Influence and Manipulation


“Socrates had a student named Plato, Plato had a student named Aristotle, and Aristotle had a student named Alexander the Great.” Tom Morris

Perhaps you’ve had the opportunity to read the first two articles in this four-part series, “Barking with the Big Dogs.” Perhaps you’ve even put into practice the process of care and have made some advancement as a trusted advisor with the executive team. Of the four articles in the series, this particular article is the most sensitive. If not practiced with caution, trying to influence someone or a situation could have a devastating impact. Therefore, this article comes with a disclaimer:

“Stupid is as stupid does.”

There, I said it. Your years of experience in working with stakeholders from all walks of life should have taught you that influence and manipulation are slippery slopes that if not treaded upon carefully will have you hearing echoes of “run, Forrest, run” throughout the hallways. I can assure you, in this instance, these are not words of encouragement but words meant for you to get out of Dodge!

Right out of the gate, let’s be very clear on one thing: manipulation is BAD. The very word conjures images and thoughts of fiendish characters scheming and plotting a wrath that will soon take over the world. Therefore, from this point forward the word manipulation will be replaced with persuasion. Perhaps you have now paused and asked yourself, have I just been influenced and persuaded? Here is a short glossary of terms to set the context of this article. Don’t gloss over the glossary of terms. Rather, read them, understand them, know them. They will provide great clarity as you read the rest of this article.

[in-floo-uhns] Show IPA noun, verb, influenced, influencing.

  1. The capacity or power of persons or things to be a compelling force on or produce effects on the actions, behavior, opinions, etc., of others: He used family influence to get the contract

  2. the action or process of producing effects on the actions, behavior, opinions, etc., of another or others: Her mother’s influence made her stay.

  3. A person or thing that exerts influence: he is an influence for the good”This is so bad!

[muh-nip-yuh-leyt] Show IPA verb (used with object), ma-nip-u-lat-ed, ma-nip-u-lat-ing.

  1. to manageHave you heard the news lately or influence skillfully, especially in an unfair manner: to manipulate people’s feelings.

  2. to handle, manage, or use especially with skill, in some process of treatment or performance: to manipulate a large tractor

  3. to adapt or change (accounts, figures, etc.) to suit one’s purpose or advantage

[per-swyd] Show IPA verb (used with object), per-suad-ed, per-suad-ing

  1. to prevail on (a person) to do something, as by advising or urging: We could not persuade him to wait.

  2. to induce to believe by appealing to reason or understanding; convince: to persuade the judge of the prisoners innocence

What I propose to explore in this article is an overall three-prong approach to persuasion and influence;

  1. Is there a rationale or justification for persuasion and influence?

  2. What you need to know about persuasion and influence.

  3. Six steps to influential and persuasive conversations.

Is There Rationale or Justification for Persuasion and Influence?

Of course there is justification for persuasion and influence! Remember, we are the trusted advisors. Even if we are executing the process of care, there are some inherent risks our customers bring to the table even before we have the opportunity to interact with them. Consider these statements:

“I need you to build product ABC. It must have the following features and benefits…” – A classic symptom of an executive already knowing what the solution is and making assumptions without a clear picture.

“I did a Google search. I got a brochure. I spoke with the vendor. I read an article. Mary from accounting said it worked for her team…” – Another classic symptom where an executive has been falsely persuaded or influenced by a source who has not provided all the gory details.

“I’ve been doing this for 20 years. If anybody knows the answer it’s gotta be me!” – While experience might provide grounds for influence and persuasion, it often clouds judgment, is less objective and often is politically motivated.

“Requirements management and development is a road block that will prevent us from developing the solution. Why can’t we start coding something now and have it delivered in a week?” – While this stakeholder or executive might be fluent in his day-to-day activities, he is not clear on the criticality of the role we play as business analysts.

It might surprise you to know, however, that a positive approach to persuasion and influence can have high reward and high impact on each of the above situations. It is our responsibility as business analysts to guide our stakeholders and executives to the right decisions without giving them the sense that they had no say, were not involved – or worse – were manipulated into something they were not amenable to.

In short we have to make reality of our executives’ impulses, inform them of alternative business value-driven options and allow them to draw their own conclusions. If we fail to do this, if we allow our executives to sail a ship aimlessly to sea, we are, in effect, giving up our responsibility as a trusted advisor. Therefore, we bring unnecessary risk to our projects, brands, time to market, market share, executives and the overall success of their organizations.

What You Need To Know About Persuasion and Influence

In Dr. Robert Ciladini’s book, “The Psychology of Persuasion,” he is clear on the concept that psychological influence and how humans react to it is automatic and predictive. Regardless of culture, country, religion or race, every human being reacts the same way to influence and persuasion. There are six categories of reaction:

Persuasion and Influence

Reciprocity is quite simple and can be summarized as, “If I scratch your back will you scratch mine?” Put another way, Reciprocity“If I can deliver a solution that is valuable to the business and brings the benefit that you expect, would you be willing to participate in our requirements workshop(s)?” When appropriately used, you are essentially asking an executive to give concessions so that she may receive concessions. You should be careful, however, to avoid reciprocity for the sake of manipulating somebody into a reaction that may likely be irrevocable.

Uncertainty is diluted once a commitment is made; it is not true however that uncertainty is Commitment and Consistencycompletely gone. In order to dissolve uncertainty completely one has to demonstrate consistent delivery, based on what has been committed to. Once this is accomplished people become emotionally attached to their decisions and consequently to their commitments. Ask yourself this: if you placed a bet on horse at a race and it won, how likely is it that you would you place a bet on the same horse again in the next race? This is a good opportunity to remind executives of the “reciprocity” treaty to which you may have already agreed.

Social proof or “shared experience” can be a very powerful form of influence. Social proofThis influential tactic can be employed by sharing positive experiences that you have had with other executives. If an executive can be reassured by demonstration of example then social proof will kick in and apprehension or reservation can be easily managed. Be willing to connect your executives with other executives who have shared similar circumstances. Allow them to explain trials and tribulations but also ask them to share the means that were necessary to achieve the end.

There’s an old adage: friends buy from friends. Friends are typically people who like us, and are like us. LikingRemember the second article in this series, Trusted Advisor. The critical success factor to this category is sincerity. Demonstrate sincere and genuine regard for the individual and the goals that she is trying to accomplish. In short , make her look good and help her succeed. If executives are certain of your motives and like you, they will undoubtedly listen to you.

There is not much to be said about authority, but let us be clear – this is NOT a muscle flexing exercise – leave your ego at the door! AuthorityAuthority in the influential context is based solely on experiential credentials. You’ll need references through social proof. If used in the wrong context and the perception of arrogance is on the table, it’s likely that the perception of manipulation isn’t too far behind. It’s important to note that often our strengths can be misunderstood as a weakness. Use your authority sparingly and with diplomacy.

While this is certainly an influencing factor as recognized by Dr. Ciladini, it’s not one that would apply to Scarcityeveryone. In fact this particular influence factor is something that is more likely applicable to those BAs who are contractors. For those of you who are reading this and are full time employees of an organization, do not try this at home, for the results may prove to be less than desirable. Scarcity basically is a demonstration of the fact that people generally want what they cannot have. Be willing to walk away from an unruly executive. The notion of you not being there to provide guidance on critical matters may create a reprieve from their unjustified behavior. Sometimes, it’s simply not worth the headache. I’ll bet there are many stories out there where contract BAs wish they would have walked away!

Six Steps to Influential and Persuasive Conversations

Step 1.

Prepare, Prepare, Prepare. The key to success is to remember the process of care in the first installment of this series (Barking With the Big Dogs – Part I: Process of Care) as you prepare. Be conscientious of the six categories of influence and ask yourself, “how am I going to apply these given the circumstances I’m about to step into?” Ensure that your plans include an honest assessment of how you will react to the executive as much as the executive will react to you.

Step 2.

Explore. This is your opportunity to shine, part 1. Ask more questions and then be prepared to listen. Ask probing questions. Ask questions that will invoke thought. Ask questions that will allow the executive to share his or her perspective of the situation. Demonstrate respect by being empathic and cautious of solving something that may not necessarily need to be solved. Do NOT be defensive. This is NOT about you. It’s about the optimal solution and ensuring you are bringing business value to the stakeholder.

Step 3.

Dissolve hostility. Dissolve concern. Explain to your client that challenges are a natural course of requirements management and development activities. If we work together to understand the root cause of our challenges, there will likely be smoother roads ahead. This may be a great time to use your reciprocity influencing ability.

Step 4.

Begin the process of interaction. If at this point you have followed the previous three steps, you should be well on your way to establishing a non-biased, focused-on-the-solution approach with executives. Your goal is to demonstrate joint problem solving and collaboration. You are likely to find yourself asking questions like, “What are your ideas for the best path(s) forward?”, “What do you think is the optimal approach?” and “How do we achieve that?”

Step 5.

Persuade and Influence. Now you should be clear on what motivates your executive. You should be able to articulate what he is personally invested in and what the true driving force is behind his ambition. Advocate his best interests and do so with sincerity, while practicing your powers of influence. Your goal is simple: reach a fair conclusion.

Step 6.

Seek Validation. Simply ask, “Has this been productive?”, “Have we missed anything?” and “What additional advice and council could you share with me that would bring additional value to our solution?”

If you are in doubt about your role as an influencer, consider this quote by one of the world’s most influential thinkers and writers:

“The best effort of a fine person is felt after we have left their presence.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson

Continue on to Part IV: High Impact Interaction

Glen Brule - CBAPAuthor: Glenn R. Brûlé, CBAP, CSM, Executive Director of Global Client Solutions, ESI International, brings more than two decades of focused business analysis experience to every ESI client engagement. As one of ESI’s subject matter experts, Glenn works directly with clients to build and mature their business analysis capabilities by drawing from the broad range of learning resources ESI offers. A recognized expert in the creation and maturity of BA Centers of Excellence, Glenn has helped clients in the energy, financial services, manufacturing, pharmaceutical, insurance and automotive industries, as well as government agencies across the world. For more information visit 

Definition of influence:
Definition of manipulation:
Definition of persuade:

Source: Ciladini Ph.D., Robert B. Influence, The Psychology of
. William Morrow & Co.: New York, NY, 1993.

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elarson posted on Tuesday, August 7, 2012 4:37 PM
Thank you for reinforcing the concepts we presented in our article The Influencing Formula for Business Analysts published on this site on August 22, 2011. ( We have been writing about and presenting on influencing without authority since 2007 and are glad that our colleagues are highlighting this important skill as well.
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