Broadening your influence: The difference between Push and Pull

By Ally Yates

Do you remember Aesop’s Fables from your youth? Or maybe you came across these morality tales a little later. Aesop, a Greek slave, possessed a wisdom above his station.  His themes and characters still speak to people of all ages and can teach us some valuable lessons.

In the fable “The North Wind and the Sun”, the two elements argue about who is the stronger and set out to test this by trying to make a passing stranger remove his coat. The north wind selects a strategy of force. He musters all his power, blowing a veritable gale, but to no avail. The sun, on the other hand, uses its warmth to gently coax the passer-by to peel off his outer layer.

Every day in work, there are countless parallels with this tale in how to influence others: If you’re the MD, it may be the challenge of engaging your staff with a new business plan. As a small business owner, you may need to influence partners to ensure you can deliver to your customers. As a member of a close-knit team, you might need to persuade your colleagues or your boss to change tack. Your effectiveness at influencing others will impact how people judge you, your chances of promotion, whether or not your ideas hold sway, your ability to engage colleagues and the quality of your customer relationships. Persuasion and influence are mission critical skills. But are you more like the north wind, convinced of the rightness of your views, or closer to the sun, more willing to warm up your targets?

In influencing others, the two most frequently used styles are Push and Pull. The Push style goes like this:

  1. I have an idea or opinion that I share with you
  2. I tell you the reasons why it’s a good idea and/or why I’m correct
  3. You agree and you move your position.

The Pull style takes a different approach:

  1. I ask you for your ideas
  2. You offer some options
  3. I then ask questions to explore your suggestions
  4. I build on your suggestions
  5. Together, we agree a way forward.

The difference lies in the behaviours, with Pull relying on the skilful use of questioning. The other key distinction when you choose Pull, is the willingness to believe that other people may have better ideas than yours.

Adopt a Pull style when you want to influence upwards. It’s also a better style to use where resistance to your idea is likely to be high. Other situations where Pull works well are: when there’s more than one option; when there are no time pressures and where any movement is better than none. It’s also useful in fostering collaboration and in coaching others to use their own resourcefulness. Pull might take a little longer but the rewards outweigh the costs.

There are also times when a Push style is going to be more effective: where you have the expertise; where there’s only one solution; where the decision has already been made; where decisions need to be made quickly; when you can enforce compliance; and where you have positional authority. The problem is that most people use Push as their default style, regardless of whether it’s the right option. Just like the north wind, their attempts at persuasion can be rendered ineffective. Worse still, you can gain a reputation for being authoritarian, unwilling to listen to others or, worse still, being a bit of a bully. It’s a win:lose outcome.

To broaden your influence, you need the versatility to be able to select the right style for the job and to exercise it skilfully.

Ally Yates, pictured above, is author of ‘Utter Confidence: How what you say and do influences your effectiveness in business’ and an expert on behaviour analysis.