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Influencing by letter [Week 3 of our 5-week series!]

Posted by on August 30, 2011

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Last week, we talked about how to successfully influence by videoconference. Now, in Week 3 of Influencing When Not Face-to-Face, we’re talking about Influencing by Letter.

Influencing by Letter resized 600

Sending someone a letter is essentially a one-way transaction. Even if your letter is a reply to someone else, you are only able to convey things from your own perspective. While letters are useful to convey information, they are limited as an influencing medium because of the absence of interactivity.

However, it is certainly possible to build and maintain relationships by letter. Penpals do this, often without ever meeting face-to-face, though the most significant relationships are generally cemented by at least one real meeting.

Appropriate Influencing Behaviors

Generally the letter writer sets the agenda, so “push” styles from the Positive Power and Influence model are likely to dominate.

As a letter writer you can employ “pull” words, responding to points previously raised by your correspondent. For example:

  • Showing you have listened – “I understand that you think sales volumes are the most critical issue.”
  • Exploring with questions – “What do you think we should do about the situation in the Northern Region?”
  • Finding and building on common ground – “It seems as if we’re both agreed that the team needs to work in a more productive way. I can see us discussing this at the next Area Meeting long into the night, the table covered with ideas and suggestions and a real atmosphere of optimism.”
  • Openness – “I’m not sure I really know what to do for the best here. My thinking is that this is something we haven’t faced before.” (Remember that letters can be forwarded on to others!)

However, in the absence of an immediate response you can never really be sure of the impact of your statements.

Verbal and Non-Verbal Components of Your Message

Only your words come through. This makes it critical that you choose words which accurately convey your message, without ambiguity. If you are seeking to influence rather than inform, precision and conciseness are at a premium.

If you know the other person well, you will be able to judge the tone and style of letter that will have the impact you are looking for. If you don’t know the other person, you will have to make a best guess.

Benefits of Influencing by Letter

  • A record of the message exists
  • The recipient deals with the message when they choose
  • Allows the receiver to repeat (re-read) the message until it is understood
  • Good for complicated or long messages
  • Good for formal communication

Disadvantages of Influencing by Letter

  • It takes some time for your message to be received, by which time the situation and what you want to happen might have changed
  • A response is delayed until the other person receives the letter, reads it and gets back to you
  • You aren’t able to immediately check if your message has been understood
  • Letters can be impersonal

Influencing Tips and Hints

  • Be clear about the purpose of your letter
  • Know what you want to say, about what and to whom
  • Convey your message in as few words as possible
  • Make your message as simple as possible—your reader may have many other things competing for their attention
  • Keep your reader in mind—their skills in the language your are writing in, their needs, their readiness for your message
  • Make it clear what action (if any) you expect from your reader
  • If the message is a personal one, consider hand writing a letter rather than using the computer. This can have a warmer and more personal impact.


A memo should follow the same pattern as a letter, though it is likely to be more informal in style.

Now you know how to influence over the telephone, by videoconference, and by letter! Come back next week for Influencing by Email.

Angela Steatham is an expert trainer for CGWA. Based in the U.K., she delivers the Positive Power and Influence program throughout Europe.

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