Within cross-functional teams of people representing different departments, positions and even cultures, a leader’s success often depends on his or her ability to gain the cooperation and support of others. Research by our colleagues has shown some influencing styles vary across cultures, but we wanted to know if gender differences might also play a role in using power and influence in the workplace.
To answer this question, OnPoint Consulting used a 360 degree feedback questionnaire to gather data on the influencing styles of 223 leaders (116 men and 107 women) across organizations and industries.
While we found some significant differences, we also found some surprising similarities.
Here’s a summary of what we found and how your leaders can use them to maximize their influence.
Differences Between Genders
Of the four most effective influencing tactics — reasoning, inspiring, consulting and collaborating— men and women use reasoning and collaborating to the same extent.
These findings might be somewhat surprising if you believe the stereotype that men lead with a more task-oriented focus and women with a more interpersonal approach. For those particular tactics, both men and women tend to do it the same.
There are, however, some significant differences regarding the two other core tactics — inspiring and consulting. Women tend to use inspiring more frequently than men, especially with colleagues and direct reports. Women also use consulting more frequently than men with bosses and with their direct reports.
Here are some other important findings from our research:
- Women use apprising (explaining how carrying out a request or supporting a proposal will benefit the other person or advance their career) significantly more with direct reports compared to men.
- Men use apprising— helping someone understand the benefit to them personally — more than women when influencing their bosses
- Men could benefit from using consulting more often with their direct reports, especially when they have authority to make a change but need others to help them implement it. However, women may be using this influencing style too often with their bosses.
- Women use recognizing (using praise or flattery) significantly more than men when influencing their colleagues and direct reports
- Women use legitimizing (establishing the legitimacy of a request and verifying they have the authority to make it) significantly more than men when influencing colleagues. This may indicate they are more likely to feel their authority is being challenged.
Tips for Maximizing Influence
Most of the gender differences involve influence attempts with colleagues and with direct reports. Men and women seem to approach bosses in a similar manner; yet their approach to colleagues and direct reports are a bit different. Some of the gender differences were consistent with gender stereotypes. Women tend to use some of the softer, more personal tactics like inspiring, consulting, apprising and recognizing more than men.
However, some of the findings are less consistent with the stereotypes. Both men and women use collaborating to the same extent and they both use consulting to the same extent with colleagues. We also found men and women use pressure to the same degree. Overall, we found that there were more similarities than differences between male and female leaders when it comes to gaining support and gaining commitment.
Your leaders can use the following tips to maximize their influence.
- Don’t consider gender. The gender of the influencer and person being influenced has no effect on whether influencing attempts are successful. To be successful, the influencer must know the person he or she is trying to influence. What are his or her needs? What is he or she looking for? What does he or she see as benefits? What are his or her values?
- Don’t rely on reasoning. Though it’s the most popular tactic, reasoning doesn’t work in every situation. Reasoning works best when used with other influencing tactics. If you’re going to use reasoning, be sure to talk about the benefits of what you’re pitching, not just the facts.
- Build a solid the foundation. The trust and relationship you have with the person you’re influencing play a vital role in how successful you are. However, many influencers fail to take time to build trust within teams. Having this relationship in place ahead of time helps you build credibility with the person so you don’t have to rely on a single influencing tactic.
Just like other skills and characteristics of effective leaders, the ability to influence others can be learned and improved upon with training. To help your leaders strengthen their influencing skills, start by making them more aware of the influencing styles they use most often. This interactive guide covers the 11 most common influencing styles, which ones are most effective and how and when to use them. You’ll also find tips and tricks your leaders can use to maximize their influence.
Take the first step toward developing stronger influencers—explore the guide now.
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