Several times a day, you probably need other’s cooperation to get your job done. Maybe you need colleagues in the lab to regularly clean the lab equipment. Or you need the person assigned part-time to your project to really put in all the hours if you’re going to meet the mission-critical deadline. Perhaps you know the marketing strategy isn’t targeting the right audience, but you’re not sure the boss is listening.
Gone are the days of command-and-control. For managers, it is no longer effective to just “order” an employee to “just do it.” Many managers have cross-functional responsibilities with no direct authority. Individual contributors are increasingly asked to accomplish tasks that require collaboration – so they need to influence others. Further, millennials are likely to disengage when “ordered,” preferring instead to be motivated and inspired. Science and engineering are often done in matrixed organizations that require collaboration to get complex tasks done, but rarely does one person have all the authority needed to do their job. Most organizations will either thrive or dive based on their ability to collaborate, create and innovate – none of which is driven by command-and-control.
So how do you get anything done? Although influence is as much an art as it is a science, it can be learned and developed. Work on these four counter-intuitive steps to begin increasing your influence.
Clarify Your Purpose
Many of us have counterproductive assumptions about influence. One of my coaching clients thought influence meant getting more for yourself and being selfish. Another saw it as trying to get someone to do something they don’t want to do. If this is what you’re thinking, then the other person probably knows it - or can at least feel it. And they don’t want to be fed (what they perceive as) your selfish agenda or do something they don’t want to do.
However, when I ask my clients about their deeper purpose we often find a much richer tapestry. One client felt strongly that a molecule she had isolated had potential to address a hard-to-treat disease. She was trying to influence her boss to dedicate time to explore it more. Another saw great potential for his organization to serve the community. He wanted the board to adopt a more ambitious agenda. As we dug into what they really wanted, their intentions were linked to the larger good of their organization or community. So tap into your larger purpose. It’s not only more motivating for you, it’s more motivating for others, too.
Get into Their Head
When we feel strongly about something, we think we’re right and we see all the relevant facts. So, we want to just tell them what they need to do, why it’s important, and have them go do it. However, they probably don’t see it the way you do.
Before you even start, get curious about what’s going on for them. Ask yourself these questions:
- What do they think they should do?
- Why would they want to do that?
- What needs, desires, concerns does it serve?
- What data or sources are they looking at that tells them it’s a good idea?
Notice that the questions require more than just a yes/no reply. They are open ended questions that solicit lots of information. And you may learn things you didn’t know. So, think about what might be in their head and ask questions to really understand.
Don’t worry about getting it all right, and don’t worry if you don’t know. The point is to just get curious. Then begin your attempt to influence with questions. Really understand what’s going on for them. Once you understand – and they feel understood – your chances of influencing them go up, AND you’re more likely to reach an agreement that is even better than what you envisioned.
Pile on the Love
People want to be seen and appreciated. It’s a basic human need, and sorely missing in our workplaces. So when your coworker does something right, say “nice job”. When your boss asks for your feedback, say “thank you.” Make a point to regularly practice appreciation.
Without a doubt, this is the long-term approach to influence. No, you cannot go into your coworker’s office, drop an acknowledgement, and then immediately tell them what to do. But over time, people will come to appreciate that you see what they do. Then when you ask them to do something, you’ll have some rapport, trust, and respect to begin the process.
Step into Learning
Getting better at influence is a learning process. Sure, some people are born charismatic and seem to be naturally persuasive. Most mortal humans, however, need to develop the skill. When you recognize an opportunity for influence, take some time to prepare. What would you like to do differently this time? What would you like to keep doing? What do you need to support the behavior change? Notice what happens. How do you feel? How does the other person respond? What do want to keep doing? What do you want to do differently? By taking even a few minutes to prepare and then reflect on what happened, you will begin building your influence muscle. And who knows, maybe someday you will make it look like you were born with the skill to influence.
Amy is a coach, mediator, facilitator and trainer specializing in communication, leadership development, collaboration and conflict management. Over the last 25 years, Amy has designed and delivered training on collaboration, leadership development, decision making and communication for diverse audiences ranging from small non-profits to Fortune 250 companies. She has administered mediation programs, mediated, and trained and supervised mediators. She has also designed and facilitated processes aimed at reaching consensus on difficult issues and uncovering organizational barriers to constructive conflict. Amy holds a PhD from Syracuse University with concentrations in conflict resolution and women’s studies. She is trained by the Coaches Training Institute (CTI) and is a member of the International Coaches Federation (ICF).