Riding the waves of influencing without authority 2/3 – voice power and self-confidence: standing tall inside and out

By Stefanie Zechner, PhD – Founder and Director, Science. People. Business.


Having a positive impact on others and meaningfully engage people in order to get their buy-in or gain their support to achieve goals are key success factors commonly described as “Influencing Skills”. Whether you’re a team member, a project lead, or an aspiring entrepreneur, mastering the art of influencing without authority can help you drive positive change, foster collaboration, and achieve your goals. Fear not! Like every surfer has learned to get to a level of mastery and to enjoy riding the waves, every leader can learn mastering the art of influencing without authority. In this summer blog I share 3 ideas in the hope that they may inspire you to take action, and keep standing on top of your board riding the waves.


Idea 2: Voice power and self-confidence: standing tall inside and out

Self-confidence isn’t just a personality trait; it’s a powerful psychological driver that significantly shapes our influence. Body language affects how others see us, but it may also impact how we see ourselves. In her famous TED talk, social psychologist Amy Cuddy captivates the audience by showing that “power posing” – standing in a posture of confidence, even when we don’t feel confident – can boost feelings of confidence and increases our chances for success.

Cuddy demonstrated that adopting expansive, confident postures – like the classic “Wonder Woman” pose – not only lead to hormonal changes in the body, increasing testosterone (the dominance hormone) and reducing cortisol (the stress hormone), it also has a positive impact on confidence and performance: Study participants who took a power pose for 2 minutes prior to a mock interview displayed more assertiveness and creativity during the mock interview and were perceived as more competent, capable, and hirable than participants who took a low-power pose.


Our inner voice becomes our outer voice



The way we communicate isn’t just about words; it’s about how we deliver them. You may have heard of the 7-38-55 rule according to which only 7% of meaning is communicated through spoken word, 38% through tone and pitch of voice, and 55% through body language. The rule has limited applicability in real life as it was derived from experiments dealing with communications of feelings and attitudes (i.e., like–dislike) performed by psychology professor Albert Mehrabian. Nevertheless, it is certainly correct that verbal and non-verbal cues play an important role in communication and are critical for influencing without authority.

Former FBI lead hostage negotiator Chris Voss  applies nonverbal signals and body movements very deliberately in a negotiation process. In his Masterclass, Voss talks about voice power: When our voice inspires confidence and uses the right tone, we’re half-way into achieving a great deal. In essence, we can use our voice deliberately to inspire our counterpart to feel the same kinds of emotions that we are expressing by activating an empathetic response from their brain’s mirror neurons.

Voss distinguishes three main tones of voice in a negotiation room:

  • Assertive voice: This voice is declarative, straight up, and delivered like a punch in the nose. (Always counterproductive)
  • Playful/accommodating voice: This voice is a bearer of truths delivered gently and promotes collaboration. This should be your go-to voice in negotiations. (Use frequently)
  • Late-night FM DJ voice: This voice is straightforward with a soothing, downward lilt. It’s best employed when establishing points of negotiation that are unchangeable. (Use wisely)

In addition to these three tones of voice, Voss refers to two essential tonalities or voice modulations: Inquisitive speech with an upward inflection, as if asking a question. This should be our default inflection, it conveys genuine curiosity and interest in the other person’s point of view. Declarative speech comes with a downward inflection as if stating a fact. When using this tonality we make clear that we’re firm and confident about our point.

Staying afloat in an ocean of rejection: buoyancy and self-talk


In his captivating bestseller “To Sell Is Human”, Daniel Pink introduces us to the concept of buoyancy. Every person who is selling an idea or product may at times be confronted with “an ocean of rejection”: wave after wave of refusals, disapprovals, or lack of buy-in. How to stay afloat in this ocean of rejection is what Pink calls “buoyancy”. It’s a critical quality for leaders who are influencing without authority, and a lot has to do with the self-talk we have with ourselves.

Martin Seligman’s work has been instrumental in understanding how our self-talk affects our buoyancy, namely by our “explanatory style”, i.e., how we explain negative events to ourselves.

Let’s take an example, say, we put together a proposal to the global program team (GPT) and got a rejection for our plans. As we deal with the rejection, here are 3 questions that we can ask ourselves:

  1. Is this permanent? (vs. temporary)

Bad response:            “Yes, I will never be able to get a yes from the GPT.”
Better response:        “No, I have not had enough time this week to prepare myself”

  1. Is this pervasive? (vs. specific)

Bad response:            “Yes, I’ve completely lost my ability to convince.”
Better response:        “No, this particular GPT had a hidden agenda and would have rejected my proposal even with the best idea”

  1. Is this personal? (vs. external)

Bad response:            “Yes, the reason the GPT didn’t buy is because I messed up the numbers.”
Better response:        “No, my presentation could have been better, but the real reason the GPT didn’t buy is because of a strategic decision to invest in another asset”

Our brain generally remembers things that don’t go well better than things that go swimmingly. We lose our buoyancy when we explain negative events as permanent, pervasive and personal. The more we explain negative events as temporary, specific, and external, the more likely we are to stay afloat in an ocean of rejection.

In conclusion, as we continue riding the waves of influencing without authority, we stand tall inside and out. Our voice inspires confidence and we’re mindful to use the right tone and tonality. We know that we can inspire our counterpart to feel the same kinds of emotions that we are expressing by activating an empathetic response from their brain’s mirror neurons. And should we fall off the board after a heavy wave once in a while, we attribute the fall to temporary, specific, and external factors.

The next episode will be dedicated to the social brain and why collaboration is key for influencing and moving others to say yes. As we’ll see, when we put the people we lead in a positive frame of mind, they are not only smarter but also make better decisions and will be more inclinced to help us accomplish our goals.

In the meantime, enjoy the last summer days and keep riding the waves, Stefanie