Influencing others - when to push, when to pull and when to do neither

Influencing others - when to push, when to pull and when to do neither

Have you ever been in a meeting when you felt you weren’t getting anywhere? Perhaps you were leading the meeting and people were failing to contribute. Or perhaps you have been unable to persuade others or maybe just unable to get people to listen to your point of view. This blog offers you some tools and techniques to enable you to influence others.

One of our firm beliefs at Beyond Theory is that behaviour breeds behaviour. What we do influences others in a certain way. How they react to the way we communicate as well as what we say can be either positive or negative. So, the first part of influencing people effectively is to reflect on how we are behaving ourselves.

Our ego states

How we behave is driven by our own beliefs and feelings as individuals. Our mood and our egos play a key role too. Also, how we see things right now and our energy levels are all contributing factors.. Are we feeling ok with ourselves or are we feeling less confident? – e.g. are our ego states ‘I’m ok and you’re ok’ or perhaps ‘I’m not ok but you’re ok’?

Let’s assume our confidence is high. If so, we need to keep ourselves in check as too much confidence could appear as arrogance. How about the confidence of the other person who you are trying to influence? Is this high or low? Are you in the position of ‘I’m ok but you’re not ok?’. Think about the consequences of this perception.

The ideal position to be in is, when appropriate, ‘I’m ok, you’re ok’. This is when both people are working together to achieve a common goal, and neither is a winner or a loser. Of course, there will always be situations when this is not possible or deemed inappropriate but aiming for the adult-to-adult outcome of ‘I’m ok and you’re ok’ is very worthwhile when building long-term, meaningful relationships.

Take a look at the table below which summarises these various positions:

I'm ok - You're not ok
I'm ok - You're ok
I'm not ok - You're not ok
I'm not ok - You're ok

Ask yourself when you are looking to influence someone which box are you in? How helpful is this?

Ask yourself which box you are in when someone is influencing you? How helpful is this too?

Being able to read people is a key skill in being able to influence others effectively. This requires emotional intelligence. However, being able to read people is one thing and being able to deploy the right skills is another. Here are some suggestions.

Push behaviour

Think of behaviour as being either push or pull. Push behaviour is very much directing others in what to do. This could be in a team meeting, a sales call, or any other interaction we may have. Influencing others can take place online (e.g. by email, text or social media) as well as face to face.

Here are some examples of push behaviour:

Example of words to use
Proposing a course of action
I propose that…
I suggest we…
It would be a good idea if…
Reasoning with others
For the following reasons I think we should…
Giving direct feedback
I like the way you…
I don't like the way you…
Giving incentives
If you do this…. then I will…
Applying pressure
If you don't do this… then I will…

All of these examples are legitimate, depending on the situation. Overdone, this type of behaviour can appear all too pushy. As behaviour breeds behaviour, we need to be aware that too much push may result in a negative reaction e.g., the other person will push back even harder (feeling you’re not ok but I am ok) or the other person will just give in (feeling you’re ok but I’m not ok). The consequences can be damaging.

Pulling behaviour

The good news is that pushing behaviour is not the only influencing tool on our toolbox. We have pulling behaviour at our disposal and, when the situations are right, can achieve great results. Whereas pushing behaviour is mainly one-way traffic in terms of communication, pulling behaviour is far more two-way. Pulling behaviour asks questions, draws out opinions and invites other to share their feelings. Pulling behaviour helps strike up conversations to enable ideas to develop and flourish. Pulling behaviour is a far more engaging way to influence people.

Here are some examples of pulling behaviour:

Example of words to use
You have good ideas on this (name); what’s your view...?
It seems to me what you are saying is…
Sharing feelings
I am excited about what you say…
I am concerned...
I feel uncertain…
I don’t feel easy about this…
Painting a picture
Imagine if…
I can see…
I have a picture of where we are going
Sharing common interests
What we have in common is…
What we agree on is…

By using pulling behaviour you can shift the energy in a meeting. Involving the other person by asking questions changes the dynamic of a conversation. The other person feels included and is more likely to feel engaged, leading to increased buy-in and, perhaps, an even better, more developed outcome.

Of course, using pulling behaviour is situational too. Asking questions and gaining others’ opinions may not be appropriate on all occasions such as an absolute emergency when well-defined procedures are to be followed without question. However, if you are stuck in a rut and not really getting anywhere then try switching from push to pull.

It’s also worth noting that there may be occasions when using either push or pull behaviour is not appropriate. For instance, situations may become too heated to deal with the issue right now. In these circumstances a third way is recommended – reducing. This option aims at calling time-out. It does not mean avoiding.

Here are a couple of examples of reducing:

Example of words to use
I need to have time to think on your proposals…
Opting out
This is getting out of hand, let’s break…

There is nothing wrong with buying more time. Reflecting on information provided or letting things cool down are perfectly legitimate ways of dealing with situations if this strategy is appropriate.


Influencing others is not easy. But it is worthwhile. Leadership is all about influencing others to achieve their objectives. Leaders need to avoid the dangers of groupthink. Business is built on long-term relationships.

Having the influencing tools of push behaviour, pull behaviour and the ability to reduce energy or tension to buy more time are useful techniques to use. Next time you’re in a conversation ask yourself:

  • Who’s ok and who’s not ok?
  • Who is doing the pushing?
  • Who could be doing more pulling?
  • What can I do differently to better influence the other person?

Paul Beesley
Director and Senior Consultant, Beyond Theory

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