One of the most challenging yet vital skills of any leader, is the ability to influence others.

Tapping into a person’s ‘why’ is fundamental to influencing – whether it’s our boss, our peers or our direct reports.

It means exploring the motivation or desire for change. And yet, so often this focus is absent in influence-based conversations.

Whether it’s tackling someone’s non-performance, getting buy-in to a new strategy, or bidding for limited resources, if others can’t connect with WHY, it will be virtually impossible to exact change in their behaviour or opinions.

Sidebar: it’s way more effective to ask a powerful question that gets your audience to think for themselves, rather than merely telling them why they should take a particular course of action.

By asking the right questions, you are far more likely to influence positive change or unblock barriers to progress. And remember – seek to understand before you seek to be understood. Listening and gaining the other person’s perspective is key to influencing.

Here are 5 questions to ask when influencing change in others:

1. What would success look like (and feel like) in this situation? What would we be seeing if we were successful in this scenario? How does the current situation/solution fit this picture of success? 

Every stakeholder needs to be crystal clear and on the same page with what success actually is before you can move forward with action points. Don’t move into solution mode until you’re completely comfortable you are all aligned. A common mistake in leadership is to assume that just because you have a clear picture of success in your mind, others do too.

2. If you/we can’t achieve X, what will that be like? What will be the consequences of inaction?

For example, if the consequence of not changing behaviour is getting fired, or your team member not achieving the promotion they want, that might be worth getting super specific about!

3. What is the drive for you? What is motivating you (or not) when considering X?

You might be surprised at the answer. What motivates you might be very different to the other person. Knowing what drives someone (or what repels them) is vital for influencing change.

4. On a scale of 1- 10 (when 1 is ‘meh’ and 10 is “I’d sell my grandma to achieve this”) where are you sitting on this?

Note: anything less than an 8 means there is more work to do before you agree what next steps to take.

5. Why is this important?

These excruciatingly simple (yet incredibly important) four words can produce eye watering epiphanies when attempting to influence others towards thinking or behaving in a certain way. Once again, it’s considerably more skilled to ask someone this, rather than tell them why it’s important.

Bonus tip: Don’t stop after one answer. Keep asking several times, “…and what else? Why else is this important?”

What other questions can you add to the list above, for helping to influence change in others? I’d love to hear your thoughts – please leave your comments below.