Influencing Skills PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sarah Murphy   
Friday, 13 November 2009 14:26

The skill to influence others is vital to the success of any tester or test manager.


The output of testing is information and it is the job of the tester to communicate that information so that it can have a real impact on the quality of the software. In other words, that the information is taken and used to drive an improvement in software quality.


Information from testing can be used to:


  • determine the quality opinion of the software
  • direct where fixes need to occur
  • direct where usability enhancements should occur
  • suggest ways to increase the testability of the software
  • influence changes in software development in order to create higher quality software
  • aid in the decision of whether the software is fit for purpose and ready for release


It is rare, however, that testers have the authority to direct actions and decisions based on the information testing generates.


While this authority/power is often outside the testing circle of control, it is within testing’s circle of influence.


Therefore, all testers should understand how to effectively influence others!


According to Dr. Robert Cialdini, there are 6 techniques to influence others:


  1. Reciprocation
  2. Commitment & Consistency
  3. Social Proof
  4. Liking
  5. Authority
  6. Scarcity


Which technique or combination of techniques you choose to employ will always depend on the situation and context.




The technique suggests that we should try to repay, in kind, what another person has provided us.


Help developers get their job done – by being someone who provides development with aid, this aid will be reciprocated back to testing.

For example, seeking testability enhancements for a feature. Testing offers to test as early as possible and to supply the developer with test cases, potentially even to offer to not file bugs in the very beginning phase of testing, then follow up with a testability enhancement request to the developer.


Commitment & Consistency


We have a nearly obsessive desire to be (and to appear) consistent with what we have done before. Once we have made a decision, we will encounter internal pressure to behave consistently with that decision. The pressure will cause us to respond in ways that justify our earlier decision.


Inconsistency is commonly thought to be an undesirable personality trait.


If testing is seen to consistently execute on its commitments, it will have a greater influencing power in the organization.


A tester who always delivers on their promises, will be trusted and respected by developers. Thereby, they will have an increased ability to influence those who trust and respect them.


This can also be used by persuading someone to go on the record and make a commitment. Once the commitment is publicly made, there is a natural tendency to behave in ways that are stubbornly consistent with the stand.


Public commitments tend to be lasting commitments.


Social Proof


Social proof is very similar to peer pressure. We find out what other people think is correct in order to determine what we believe to be true. The principle applies especially to the way we decide what constitutes correct behavior. We view a behavior as more correct in a given situation to the degree that we see others performing it.


For example, in your organization if testers are seen to help developers and if certain, influential and well respected developers, are seen to return the favor, more developers will follow suit, emulating the actions of those whom they trust and respect.


Also, social proof means that the greater the number of people who find any idea correct, the more the idea will be correct. Persuade others of an idea, and they will, in turn, persuade others again.




We most prefer to say yes to the requests of someone we know and like.


Testers who wish to influence developers need to be liked by those developers.


Therefore, it is essential when critiquing the quality of the software that it is done in a manner that in constructive and not a personal attach on the developer who wrote it.


Negating the “them versus us” which sometimes exists between developers and testers is paramount.




We are trained from birth that obedience to proper authority is right and disobedience is wrong.


Therefore, when trying to influence others, it can be particularly useful if you’ve already convinced someone in authority in the organization.




Scarcity suggests that opportunities seem more valuable to us when their availability is limited.


This can be used in testing very easily as we are always under-resourced and always time-strapped.


Don’t hide this from developers, tell them, if they want this tested they must have it available by a certain date because after that date you will be too busy with another project that cannot be delayed.


Remember, that not only do we want something more when it is scarce, we want it most when we are in competition for it.




We use these techniques on a daily basis without realizing it or identifying what we do as a “technique”. It is important to note here that the use of these techniques post an ethical dilemma. Whatever spin you would like to put on it, you are trying to manipulate others so that they do what you ask of them and agree with your opinions.


In business, and testing, this is part of the job but we must bear in mind, that the level to which we manipulate and influence must remain within an acceptable level. Otherwise, we potentially will fall to the dark side of the force!




Influence, The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert B. Cialdini, Ph. D.




This article is at a very high level. This book is an excellent read which I unequivalently recommend to every tester and test manager.