• Behaviour

How to Master Upward Influence

Professor Connson Locke offers practical advice and tips on how to make our voices heard, influence people with more power than us―and create positive change

Thursday 01 July 2021


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“At times in my life I've had trouble speaking up―that’s how I got into this idea of upward influence. How do you speak up to people who have more power than you? How do you communicate up the hierarchy?” Professor Connson Locke, LSE

Four Channels of Communication
There are four channels of communication at our disposal as we look to practice upward influence. They are:

1. Kinaesthetic - This is communication via touch―shaking someone's hand, a pat on the back. Also, proximity―how close you stand or sit by someone communicates something.
2. Visual - How does a person look, how do they dress? What is their body language, their facial expression?
3. Linguistic – The first channel we think of: the verbal―the words we use.
4. Paralinguistic – This is voice, but it is everything in the voice other than the actual words―pausing, sighing, laughing, tone of voice, pitch.

On a Zoom call we can use three of these, at most. On the phone we reduce it down to two, and when we write an email or a text, we are limiting ourselves to just one channel of communication. These are where miscommunication becomes more likely.

Tip: The next time you have something difficult or controversial to communicate increase the number of channels you are using to reduce miscommunication.

We tend not to focus enough on the paralinguistic channel. Ahead of giving a presentation we will often concentrate on the visual―how will we dress, what will the slides look like? We concentrate on the words we will use. We don't spend so much time asking ourselves: am I monotone? When should I pause?
Tip: Correct a monotone speaking style by reading books to children. When you read children's books you have to play around with your tone of voice―you act out the different characters, the comedy, drama, you pause for effect―and you have fun with it.


A Confident Demeanour

Here is a shortlist, supported by good research, of things to pay attention to―tips to make you look more confident, feel more confident, and in turn appear more leader-like, competent, charismatic, effective, and more influential.

  • Make eye contact while listening―it conveys warmth.
  • Make eye contact while speaking―this conveys confidence.
  • Speak audibly and with a confident tone.
  • Speak fluidlyuse pauses, but not filler words.
  • Use confident gestures to help make a point.
  • No fidgeting or small repetitive movements.
  • Stand up straight (or sit up straight.)
  • Take up more space―to show control of the room (or the screen).

Tip: Pausing is critical. People need you to pause so they can take in what you have said. Filler words―‘um’, ‘like’, ‘y’know’, ‘sort of’―we use these when we are uncomfortable with silence. But silence is better! The next time you feel one of these filler words coming on, replace it with silence. People will find you more engaging.


Circles of Concern, Circles of Influence

We all tend to have a large circle of concern. All the things we might be worried about—the pandemic, the way the country is being run―things we can't necessarily do anything about.

We have a much smaller circle of influence: the things we can do something about.
The more we focus on this circle of influence, the larger the circle becomes. We become more influential. It also benefits our mental health. The more we occupy the circle of concern, the more we tend to complain, because we are focused on matters outside of our control.


Low and High Energy

Think of a scale from 1-10. ‘1’ is low energy, ‘10’ is high energy. Now, sit in your chair like a ‘1’ for ten seconds or so. Now sit like a ‘10’. You will notice the energy level shifted a bit, just by changing the way you sat in your chair. This is something within your circle of influence―managing your energy. The more senior you become, the more important this becomes as energy is contagious, even online. 
Tip: Change the way you sit in your chair, stand up and walk around the room, listen to a bit of music. If you want to be more influential, if you want people to really pay attention to you, you must manage yourself first. That is the starting point.

Listen Up

Part of upward influence relies on strong listening skills. In a dialogue, don't think only about how to reply. If you are thinking about how to reply, you are not truly listening.
Tip: Try challenging yourself to restate what someone has just told you―this practice forces you to listen.

Stay Authentic
This term is often misunderstood to mean ‘honesty’. While honesty is important it is not always appropriate. For example, if you were to tell your team, "I don't know if this project will work. The last time I tried it, it failed, but let's see how it goes this time!”—this revelation will not be conducive to a well-motivated team.

Authenticity really means you have a core set of values and principles―such as, ‘I believe in fairness’. Think of these as a little metal ball inside of a larger rubber ball. The rubber ball is the face we show the world―it is malleable. We adjust our external behaviours in order to achieve our goals. What we are staying authentic to are our core values and principles within.


Connson Locke (@connsonlocke) is a Professorial Lecturer in the Department of Management at LSE. She is Course Convenor of LSE’s online certificate courses MBA Essentials and Negotiation. Her new book, Making Your Voice Heard, is out now. 

At LSE Executive Education, we see the world as interconnected.

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