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Influencing Skills

How to Influence with Style and Panache

There is no right way, nor is there only one way to influence. Everything, but everything, can be an influencing factor. We are, all of us, influenced by people, places, events and situations at all times. Sometimes we are affected more, sometimes less, but we are continually being influenced by what happens around us.

So what can be said specifically about influencing in the workplace? Many jobs require you to influence people just about all of the time. It may take the form of gaining support, inspiring others, persuading other people to become your champions, engaging someone's imagination, creating relationships.

Whatever form it takes, if you can get to be good at it you will make your job easier.

Interestingly, other people like to be around people who use their influencing skills well. There's a kind of exciting buzz, or sense that things happen when they're about.

This is simply because they don't sit around wishing things were different whilst moaning there's nothing they can do about it. They don't sit around blaming others or complaining about what needs fixing to make things better. They see what needs doing and set about getting it done.

Influencing Arenas

People influence in many different ways. Being able to influence in one arena, doesn't necessarily mean you'll be able to in another. For instance, you might be great one-to-one when talking to colleagues, getting them on-board a project or helping you complete something last minute. But put you in front of a roomful of people with the same message and you become a human replica of a piece of wood without a skill to your name.

There are obviously more, but we have defined four types of Influencing, which seem to be particularly relevant in the workplace.

Leading:

In this arena you are highly visible; you may set policy; you have to motivate others; you have to have an excellent grasp of the big picture. As a public figure, businessperson, head of a group, club, etc.

Internal:

In this arena you are balancing different people's needs, wants and skills. You are supporting and encouraging. You are working for a joint aim. Co-operative, working with peers, teams, families, socially.

One-to-One:

In this arena skills used are often empathy, understanding, gentle persuasion, getting the other person to see new possibilities. Coaching, mentor, peer group.

Maverick:

Pressure groups, lobbying. This area is often one-issue focused. You may be trying to get others to take on board something quite specific. People might even comment that you have a 'bee in your bonnet'. You often have to be very focused and have a passionate belief in your 'cause'.

Think for a minute about the ways in which you influence.

Where do you do most of your influencing?

When are you most effective?

What skills and tools do you already use?

Conversely, which tools and skills do you find harder to use?

Where have you been least effective, and what was missing?

Whatever area you work in, influencing is the ability to 'work' a dynamic, whether it's a large group, one to one or over the phone. By 'working' the dynamic, we mean using everything at your disposal, both verbal and non-verbal communication, to create the impact you want, rather than letting things just happen.

It's not just one thing

Truly excellent influencing skills require a healthy combination of interpersonal, communication, presentation and assertiveness techniques, and the insight and understanding of which skills to use and when.

You need to be able to adapt and modify your personal style when you become aware of the effect you are having on other people, while still being true to yourself. What is important is the ability to change your behaviour and attitude, not changing who you are or how you feel and think.

You may try to exert your influence through coercion and manipulation. You might even succeed in getting things done that way; but that isn't really influencing. It's forcing people to do what you want, often against their will. You will rarely succeed in winning support this way.

Pushing, bullying, bludgeoning or haranguing DO NOT WORK! Like elephants, people will remember the experience.

Indeed, if you force someone to do something you want, without taking his or her point of view into consideration, then you will leave a lasting impression on that person. This may then be how they will see you forever. You're stuck with it, and you will have to do a great deal of remedial influencing work in order to be seen differently.

Real influencing skills are far subtler and fairer than that: they require that powerful mix of interpersonal and communication skills plus an ability to get other people to want to support you.
People are far more willing to come halfway (or more) if they feel acknowledged, understood and appreciated. They may even end up doing or agreeing to something they wouldn't previously have done because they feel good about making the choice.

Influencing is about understanding yourself and the effect or impact you have on others. Though it can, on occasion, be one way, it is primarily a two-way relationship. It is about changing how others perceive you. In other words, what you're dealing with here is the old clich "perception is reality". It makes perfect sense in the context of influencing.

It doesn't matter what's going on internally for you - if it isn't perceived by the other person, then it doesn't exist, other than in your mind. You could be doing the most brilliant presentation you've ever created, but if you haven't brought your 'audience' with you, the brilliance is wasted. Bringing them with you only happens when you are able to see what's going on for them, which will be different, however much you may have in common.

They aren't you

Intellectually, you know that no two people see the world the same way. Emotionally, however, it can be a whole different ball game.
Emotionally, what you want is that the scales will fall from the other person's eyes and they will suddenly see how right you were all along.

When you try to influence someone whose view of the world is so strange (because it isn't yours), the tendency is to try to get them to see what you see. When they don't, most of us just keep trying harder to make them see it our way. Sort of like the Englishman abroad who just shouts louder in English in the hopes that the 'foreigner' will understand.

We are all 'foreigners' to someone else. And as much as you can be frustrated by someone not understanding what it is you are trying to put across, so they too are frustrated by your inability to understand their point of view.

Rule of thumb: if you've tried twice to explain something and they still haven't got it, you are not talking the same language. To influence, you will have to try something different!

At Impact Factory we think one of the most essential skills any influencer needs is the ability to see what the other person is seeing. People who can do this have developed the ability to give up, even if only momentarily, their position or point of view, in order to see the other person's. Once you really "get it" that no matter how similar someone may seem to you, they don't see things the way you do, your ability to influence them is multiplied a hundredfold.

You can then begin to speak their language instead of shouting at them in yours.

Here's an example

Take IT people. Maybe you are one of these much-maligned people yourself.

You know how it is when something goes wrong with your computer? All you want is that it gets fixed yesterday, your whole working life depends upon it, etc., etc? So you call an IT support person and start to gabble in your panic about how they have to fix your computer right away. From your point of view it's screwed up and all you want is for it to function NOW.

So eventually an IT person comes along. They look at your computer, they play around with it and make it do things you've never seen done before and slowly begin to tell you what's wrong, in great detail; detail you have absolutely no interest in. All you need is your computer up and running; the other person, however, has a burning need to explain, so that you understand, everything that needs to happen before it gets up and running.

You're both obviously talking about computers, but your views of the computing world are so different that you are almost speaking two completely different languages. What will to happen in situations like this (and we hear this in just about every company we work with) is an escalation of frustration, because each person is trying to get the other to understand where they're coming from, without taking the other's point of view into account.

That isn't influencing.

OK. So what can you do about it?

Influencing can sometimes be looked at as the ability to 'finesse', almost sleight of hand. The other person isn't prodded into seeing your view of the world, but is persuaded, often unconsciously, into understanding it.

Influencing is about being able to move things forward, without pushing, forcing or telling others what to do.

Now one of the most powerful forces that affecting people's behaviour is the avoidance of humiliation. No one wants to embarrass themselves if they can help it. It's one of the reasons we stick to behaviour we know: at least it usually gets results we're familiar with, and there are no surprises.

So changing your behaviour does entail a certain risk. But if that behaviour change is deliberate, and you have made an effort to see the world from the other person's point of view, then it is possible for humiliation to be avoided on both sides.

When working on behaviour change everyone has a bridge to get over for himself or herself, which is just to do with the appropriateness or "allowability" of choosing behaviour for effect. Many of us feel that people will somehow "see" that we are doing it and we'll get "caught out". Are we being manipulative? Isn't it too calculated?

It is our view that if more people actually took the time to consider the effect of their behaviour, what the other person's terms of reference were and what the desired outcome was, and then chose their behaviour to suit that situation, that would be using influencing skills to their optimum level.

The Influencing 'Grab Bag'

Within the context of influencing, it is important to distinguish between a skill and a 'trick' or tool. A trick is the ability to do something immediately and differently, which will create a different response in the other person. It usually requires minimal thought, analysis or even practise to be able to do well.

Simple things such as:

  • Agreeing with someone so that they feel heard and are therefore more able to hear what you have to say
  • Doing something physically different like changing your relative position vis vis the other person
  • Using silence or pauses, rather than leaping to fill the gap

A skill, on the other hand, requires a more in-depth understanding of what's going on for the other person. It requires practise and a lot more conscious thought. Often it requires slowing things right down so that you can see as much of the big picture as is possible.

More complex skills include:

  • Reading the body language signals of the other person and appropriately changing your attitude
  • Becoming an 'objective observer' so that you can reflect back what you see and hear is going on for the other person
  • Noticing the games people play and being able to say what you see really going on without blaming or being the one to 'fix' it
  • Dealing with misunderstanding (deliberate or otherwise) without making the other person wrong

However, regardless of whether you are looking at a skill or a tool, what makes you effective is your ability to choose. Sometimes you can get so used to your own personal style or pattern of communicating, that you don't think of how it is being received, and you don't think of behaving in any other way.

Spheres of Influence

Good influencing skills can be used to identify and enrol others who would be willing to give you access to areas you don't have any direct route to now.

All of us have people we know who comprise our current sphere of influence. Think about it: when you have a project to do or a problem to solve or information to get, it's likely you know almost instantly who you could call upon to get something done or to help you out. You take a direct route to those people to enlist their support.

But what happens when the person or people who could help you out are beyond your reach? There are times when you know who could help you, but they aren't sympathetic, or you don't know how to get directly to them. You may assume they won't be interested or they just have another agenda that's completely different from yours.

Whatever the reason, you've suddenly reached the end of your sphere of influence and it appears as if you can go no farther. This sometimes feels like a good time to give up and not bother. Or the opposite might be true, and you keep banging your head on the unyielding wall determined you'll break through this time.

Far better to spend your energy and effort influencing someone who's already in your current sphere who may then influence the person who isn't.

Here's an example

We worked with a team of people who had just found out that their budget had been cut by 25% for the following year. Their first reaction was to lodge a protest, demand the cut be reinstated, say it wasn't fair, etc, etc. Then they realised that they had no direct access at all to the people who had cut their budget, who were so far up the hierarchy as to be out of sight. So their second reaction was one of resignation and of trying to manage with the depleted budget.

It looked, on the face of it, like there was nothing they could do. When we worked with them, however, it was to help them identify people they already knew within the organisation who could be enrolled as champions. They determined to be seen by these champions as a department that was "good value for money" and directed their influencing efforts in that direction. What they did was to enrol and empower people who would then be likely to take their message into circles to which they had no access.

And it worked. Because they were operating from a positive position demonstrating their value, other people became more willing to help them out and put their case forward. Their cut wasn't reinstated, but the outcome was that it didn't happen to them again.

To sum up

Good influencing is an active process. It's a confidence and a willingness to use yourself to make things happen. It's using pressure that doesn't feel like coercion. It's being able to see what other people need and choosing what you do to create the outcome you want. It's about creating good feelings in others so they don't duck when they see you ("Oh no, what do they want now?"), but come out to meet you to find out what you've got on the go this time.

 

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