How often in a typical working day do you have to get someone to buy into your ideas, see something from a new perspective, or take a decision or action that is different from their initial intention? The answer (unless you either have total power and broke no dissent to its application OR you have absolutely no power whatsoever, so your opinion simply doesn’t count) is ‘a lot’.
Now, you’re a leader so the latter isn’t likely to be the case and it’s a BIG mistake if you’re doing the former. Trust me, you’re causing a lot of damage if that’s the case.
In many ways, to lead is to influence. Could you even be considered a leader if you couldn’t influence the people you interact with every day?
The challenge for most leaders is that the more senior you become, the more tempting it is to rely on your power over others and simply direct them rather than seeking to engage others and reap the rewards of truly influencing them instead.
And, of course, influence doesn’t just apply to your interactions with the people you lead. It applies to your interactions with customers, with bosses, with peers and with suppliers as well. Your network of stakeholders is really a network of influence and influencing.
But, for all that we invest so much of our time influencing others, too often we’re not that good at it. In fact, a lot of the time, influencing conversations actually end up looking like something else altogether because we dig our heels in and simply push our point of view. If we do this when we’re working with peers, influencing conversations can quickly descend into time-wasting conflict. If we do this when we’re working with the people we lead, we’ll end up with a compliant, disempowered team at best. And if we do it with our boss, we just might find it’s surprisingly career limiting.
The good news is, it’s surprisingly easy to influence others successfully if we just follow three simple, fail-safe steps. Here they are – apply them liberally and you’ll get far better outcomes far more often.
1. Get out of your own head and into the head of the person you want to influence
The first key step to actually influencing others is to hold your own opinions, wants and needs lightly. Instead, get focussed on the other person’s opinions, wants and needs. You already know what’s in your mind and you’ve already influenced yourself so, what’s going on in your head really doesn’t matter. It’s the other person you’re trying to influence, so the only thing that really matters here is what’s important to them. And yes, you’ve guessed it, the best way to do this is to listen to understand!
2. Ask questions to explore their views rather than pushing yours
It can be counter-intuitive to ask questions when you want to influence someone. Surely the point is to get your message across and the best way to do that is to talk? Absolutely not! You see, when you’re talking, the other person’s barriers are actually going up more and more. They have time to figure out all the reasons they object to what you’re suggesting and so talking can actually be an anti-influence (I think I just invented a new word there 😊.)
Instead, ask questions to encourage the other person to share their thoughts. It’s especially important to ask questions that explore why people are resistant to your ideas. This brings three key benefits. Firstly, it lets you know what matters to the other person and get insights to the barriers you have to overcome to bring them round to your way of thinking. Secondly, it gives the other person a chance to work through their objections which, again counter-intuitively, can help them to overcome these for themselves. Thirdly, it means they feel their opinion matters to you and we are more willing to be influenced by someone who is actually interested in what we have to say.
3. Link what you want to happen with what the other person wants to happen
One of the key reasons that influencing conversations end up as conflict conversations is that no-one makes these links. Instead, the parties involved in the conversation get ever more entrenched in their own position and simply keep pushing that at the other person, whether there is a link there or not. What a waste of time. Instead, actively seek the links between your wants and the wants of the other person. If you can show exactly how your ideas give them what they want, then you’ve hit the jackpot! And, if in the course of the conversation you realise that there is no link between what you want and what matters to them, you’ll know it’s time to back off for now.
One final point with all of this, it’s easy to turn all of the above steps into a manipulating conversation rather than an influencing conversation. Ultimately, manipulating is influencing’s rather unpleasant alter ego. To ensure you are influencing someone rather than manipulating them, make sure you do all of the above with the intention of getting a positive outcome for everyone involved. Engage with authenticity, let go of your own ego and be willing to change your mind. After all, in all that listening, questioning, and linking up, you just might find that their ideas and opinions are actually better than yours 😊.
And always, observe yourself and others with interest and learning, not with criticism and judgement.