Joseph S. Nye Junior is an expert on power. In his book, The Future of Power, he demonstrates how governments can no longer simply exercise hard power to achieve their aims, but need to combine this with soft power – the ability to “control the narrative that influences people” – to maintain and enhance their position in the world.

It is not just politicians who need to understand the nature of power. Managers too must understand how a changing business environment requires them to adapt the way they wield power and exert influence.

One training activity to teach this is to get groups of five or six people to choose a candidate for a job, while observers note and then give feedback on which group members were more or less successful in influencing the final decision and why. The next stage is where one representative from each group makes a pitch to all the participants as to which is the best candidate. Everyone then votes on who made the best pitch, followed by a debrief.

I did this once with an assortment of 40 factory managers from across the globe: there were six presentations, all by non-native speakers of English. I was really impressed by one of them in particular – a self-confident, high-octane sell from a Brazilian who had done an MBA in the States. And yet he did not get the most votes. The winner was a low-key, distinctly unflamboyant German who gave a structured and detailed set of reasons for his recommendation. Initially I was amazed, until I realised that this was the style embraced by the majority of the group, the one they trusted more. Consciously or unconsciously, the German had succeeded in influencing the outcome by having the right style of communication for that audience.

Knowing about your style and its impact and understanding audience expectations are important aspects of how managers exercise power and influence effectively.

Steve Flinders is a freelance trainer, writer and coach, based in Malta, who helps people develop their communication and leadership skills for working internationally:

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