Influencing without ‘real’ authority at ASTC (NSW) 2014

I’m attending the annual conference of the Australian Society for Technical Communication (NSW), ASTC (NSW) 2014. These are my session notes from the conference. All credit goes to the presenter, and any mistakes are mine. I’m sharing these notes on my blog, as they may be useful to other technical communicators. Also, I’d like to let others know of the skills and knowledge so generously shared by the presenter.

The conference keynote was presented by Haydn Thomas. He shared tips and techniques for influencing people of all sorts. When you’re providing content that transforms something complex into something simple, you’re using skills that are applicable to more areas than technical writing.

Haydn asked us to come up with the two major challenges that you face when you’re trying to influence a positive outcome. My neighbour and I came up with these two points:

  • Overcoming prejudices
  • Overcoming already ingrained ideas and assumptions

Haydn discussed the second point, saying that to resolve this, we need to influence the other person towards a positive outcome. Another person in the audience mentioned that we also need to be able to overcome our own assumptions. To do that, says Haydn, we need to constantly seek feedback.

Next, Haydn told us we need context. He illustrated this by asking us all to get up and go out through the door. Nobody moved. Instead, we asked, “Why?” We needed context. If we were told there was a fire outside, we’d have followed him out of the door.

Haydn’s aim was to teach us:

  • Adjust personal styles
  • Maximise leadership impact
  • Motivate others to act quickly


Haydn’s definition:

Influence is the ability to get things done through others because they want to do it.

We looked at the circles of influence and concern by Stephen Covey, to which Haydn adds the circle of control.

He talked about FEAR (Future Events Appearing Real) and how we can go out and find facts to counteract the fear. Document the objects and causes of the fear.

Another tip is to become aware of body language, as a means of communication.

An acronym used in change management


  • Awareness of the change that’s being requested
  • Desire, which leads to commitment
  • Knowledge – give people the facts they need to take action
  • Ability – turn the knowledge into ability
  • Reinforcement – reinforce the awareness, desire, knowledge and ability

The biggest cause of failing to influence people is missing out on the first two steps.

5 steps to influencing success

  1. Tell people what the impact of the change will be.
  2. Help them to understand the challenges. Work out the barriers.
  3. Share a solution. Find ideas.
  4. Remind people of the benefits.
  5. Get their agreement.

Types of power

Haydn talked about the types of power people have, ranging from the influence bestowed by a person’s position in an organisation or in society, through the influence held by experts, the influence you can gain by association with influential people, influencing people by giving them rewards, and other types of power. An interesting one was “informational”. Consider whether we gain more influence by withholding information or by sharing it.

The point is to decide what type of power we ourselves rely on most, and what type is used most by the people we’re interacting with. When you understand this, you can prepare and be proactive when wanting to influence people towards a successful outcome.

Techniques for influencing people

There are two tactical types of influencing:

  • the pull technique: convincing others to come with you.
  • the push technique: using persuasion or rewards and punishment to push people towards your goal.

When using the pull technique, share a common vision. Get people involved via participation and trust. The push style uses rewards or punishment to get people to do something, or simply just tell them assertively to do it.

Tactics – the ways to take action

When using the pull technique, get people excited, and get a group of people to come along with you. Try disclosing something about yourself, by sharing a story. Make sure you recognise people by giving them personal thanks. Adding emotional impact to an event ensures that people remember it. Test the potential solutions, and share the results. For example, ensure that our content can be seen in many different formats. Or test to find out whether visual or textual content works best in a particular situation. Value failure as a way of trying different solutions.

When using the push technique, you’re prescribing the goals and expectations. This works with some people, and not with others. Try using milestones, measurement and repeated evaluations as a way of getting people to do things. Or provide incentives and pressures. When using assertive persuasion, one technique is to offer just a couple of options, which encourages people to commit to one of them. Or you can lead people by listing the pros and cons. Get people to make the decision that they want to do something.

Resolving a difficult situation

Haydn finished by sharing a way of analysing a difficult situation that you may be in with a particular person. The techniques show you how to decide if the situation is a “state” or a “trait”, and the ways to handle each type.


The presentation handouts are very useful, both in their content and also in that they provide a kind of cheat sheet that you can use next time you need to influence another person towards a positive outcome.

Haydn’s presentation was very interactive and lively. He told some great, funny, engaging stories to illustrate the points he was making. We were all totally involved in the session. Thanks Haydn for a great kickoff to the conference.


About Sarah Maddox

Technical writer, author and blogger in Sydney

Posted on 17 October 2014, in ASTC, technical writing and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. Thanks for such an interesting, detailed summary, Sarah. Obviously a valuable session; I wish I _had_ been able to get to the conference.

  2. I would like to know more about handling a difficult situation and determine if it’s a trait or a state and the ways to handle each. Can you provide a link or reference I can go to? Thank you…Sherri

  3. Hi Sherri & Sarah,
    Firstly Sarah, thank you for your wonderful summary and feedback. I am so glad you saw real value in the presentation.
    Sherri, please feel free to reach out to me and I can send you provide you with an assessment and approaches that you may find useful. Alternatively, we offer a 2 day program that address this in details and demonstrates how you can influence without real authority.
    Haydn Thomas

  4. Great advice for anyone in the world of work and the world of life.

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