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The BA Skill Set – Influence – The Targeting Approach

The concept for this article came from something I read a number of years ago. It’s something that has remained and resonated with me throughout the years.

I see at as a blueprint for targeted influence at all levels of the business, and something I’ve been thinking about more and more on more prominent projects I’ve been delivering.

Influencing others is a primary skill of the business analyst. Influence will take many forms and needs to be skilfully tailored to the audience, whether it be a project team, the end users, or even the board of directors.

It is our responsibility to be able to positively influence throughout the organization. It’s even more important always to remember that when influencing others it is our responsibility to sell the concept or vision. It is not the others responsibility to buy.

Without influence, we simply cannot lead from the front and this can mean we have less ability to deliver what we feel is required from a strategic or analytical perspective.

It’s also important to remember that as a BA, objectivity is key. We need to present alternate views. This always should include the negatives and downsides, not just the positives. Presenting balanced arguments is a key factor in achieving authenticity and enhancing our reputation for the excellent analysis.
When influencing it is often stated that we must ‘win hearts and minds’.

The issue here is that trying to win both hearts and minds at the same time can split the impact of the message we are trying to convey.

Winning Hearts

Winning hearts relies on gaining emotional buy-in and bringing others along for the ride. It is often most appropriate when influencing colleagues to go that extra mile or to motivate others when their motivation is diminishing. Persuading others to deliver more and rallying the troops in times of need requires influencing skills that rely heavily on feelings and emotions.

Connecting with others on a personal level, understanding both their needs and their fears is critical to ensuring your needs can be bought into by others. It requires skillsets often associated with more extraverted individuals but is also a critical understanding for an experienced BA to have.

It’s also a great way to paint pictures in the minds of others. Great storytellers thrive when influencing through ‘winning hearts’.


Winning Minds

Winning minds, on the other hand, can often be achieved through strategies directly in conflict with winning hearts. Winning minds tend to rely more on tangible facts and data, and taking a more analytical approach to influencing with datasets rather than storytelling.

There is a fantastic TEDx talk entitled ‘Data Storytellers’ which bridges the gap, but I won’t get into it here as from personal experience, achieving both tends to be the exception, rather than the norm.

At the heart of scientific persuasion lies logical reasoning and well thought out arguments. Often times the crucial factor boils down to being able to anticipate questions that could be raised and having a well structured and presented answer ready in advance for these.

When winning minds we often need to take a step back and look at our arguments more strategically and try to pick holes in them. Anticipating the weaknesses allow us to answer analytically and to help guide the person asking the questions through their doubts, until all they have left, is to reach the very conclusion you had been leading them towards.

Winning minds is often a great strategy when presenting to senior managers who have no pre-bias or emotional investment in solutions put before them. Harvard business review studies have shown that strategic thinking is one of the most sought-after skills for companies looking to promote to the ‘C-suite’. At this level, senior managers tend to think both strategically and financially. Appealing to the logical side of their decision making lends itself to the strategy of ‘winning minds’.

Winning minds is also a great strategy for reversing decisions made on gut feelings or emotions, often with little fact or evidence to back it up. It’s hard to refute facts backed up by the numbers, and offering this type of information is a great way to influence the reversal of biases. By presenting them with evidence they can get behind, you have effectively demonstrated your ability to manage up.

Tailor Your Message

Trying to appeal to both hearts and minds can often lead to a weakened position. You likely won’t have the same level of connection you would by targeting just one and tailoring it.

It’s important to know your audience. Presenting the most powerful and persuasive argument can be the difference between buy-in and indifference.

Our reputation as an analytical but objective expert is critical, so understanding the power and science behind influencing can lead to important decisions being made on the side we believe in pursuing. We are often subject matter experts, and the experience we have gained can be crucial to helping guide others to the finish line and towards success. Combine your knowledge of your audience with a targeting of your message and you will see your influence grow.