influence

The Fine Art of Influence

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Influence has so many implications, from getting your ideas heard to getting the support and resources you need to implement them. For some, the fine art of influence comes naturally, but for most it requires concerted effort.

Let’s start by taking a look at a common definition of influence:

Influence is the capacity or power of persons or things to be a compelling force on or produce effects on the actions, behavior, opinions, etc., of others. (Source: dictionary.com)

Well, who wouldn’t want to be a compelling force that affects what others think or do?! You might be thinking that this sounds more like manipulating others to get what you want. However, what I’m referring to is learning how to develop win/win scenarios that allow you to get traction by being authentic, considering what is important to others, and doing what’s right for your company.

For example, I have a client who is trying to take the performance of her organization to the next level but keeps getting tangled in a web of politics. She needs help from another group to get the results she wants, but hasn’t been able to influence them to collaborate. Her focus is not self-serving. She truly has the organization’s best interest in mind.

So, we zeroed in on one critical relationship that could influence my client’s results dramatically. Below is a list of questions that I asked her in the context of influencing a specific person to take action. These questions may help you the next time you want to exert more influence.

What are you really trying to accomplish?

First, be clear about what you want and why. It will help you better understand and communicate your underlying intent. For example, you may want someone to invite you to a specific leadership team meeting. On the surface, it might seem to the other person that you just want to schmooze, but in reality you have and want to share key information with the group so that they can make better business decisions. Clarifying and sharing your intent will lead you to make the request in a way that will help the other person understand the “so what.”

How are you perceived by the other person?

Your credibility and reputation impacts whether the other person notices or really hears what you want. So, take time to reflect about what the other person thinks of you and how her “filter” might affect what she thinks of your request.

In my client’s case, the other person thinks of her as smart, direct, and focused on doing the right thing. However, they don’t know each other well, so my client may need to reinforce some of those attributes in her communication.

What is important to the other person?

Asking this question will help you zero in on what motivates the other person. It could range from looking good to his boss, to wanting to get promoted, to achieving a specific goal, to working less. If you don’t know the answer to this question, talk to others who might.

Where is the common ground for you both?

This final step brings it all together by combining your intent with what matters to the other person. People tend to be much more receptive if they view your request as aligned with their goals and objectives. Think about how you can frame your request or what you want in this context.

By taking even a couple of minutes to think through these questions, you can dramatically shift how you frame an idea or make a request — and your influence on the outcome. It can be the difference between sounding nitpicky and self- serving vs. sounding focused on something that matters to you and the other person involved, and that brings value to the organization. Give it a shot and see what happens.

Put More Power Into Your Communication Style

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Women sometimes undermine their own power in how they communicate. I see this time and again with my coaching clients, and I have made some of these mistakes myself.

Women often don’t realize how their communication style gets in their way or impacts how others view their leadership. Although women may have good intentions, those may not be apparent in their communication. I think this quote drives the point home: “We judge ourselves by our intent, but we judge others by their actions.” So, remember that your actions may be doing you a disservice, no matter how positive your intentions.

Let’s take a look at three common communication traps to see if any of them apply to you.

1.  Getting into the weeds.

Women often make the mistake of building up to their conclusions, rather than starting with the two or three key headlines. They often don’t realize how this can diminish their credibility. By taking everyone through the details first, they run the risk of losing their audience in a sea of information, or giving the impression that they can’t see the big picture or get out of the weeds. Remember you can always provide additional information if others need it — so lead with the headlines.

2.  Holding back.

Have you ever been in a meeting and never said a word? Perhaps it’s because you agreed with what others said and you didn’t see a need to convey that. Or maybe you didn’t want to be rude and talk over someone to get your point across. Or perhaps you simply wanted to respect everyone else’s time and not prolong an already long meeting. Whatever your rationale, what did your participation (or lack thereof) convey to others? Did your presence really make a difference?

So next time, speak up! Before you walk into that meeting or jump on that conference call, take five minutes to anticipate what will be discussed and develop your point of view. This will make it easier to dive right in, contribute to the discussion, and get your voice heard.

3.  Treading too softly.

Women sometimes use a tone of voice or language that reduces their power and influence. Their voice may take on a higher pitch at the end of a sentence, giving the impression that they’re asking a question rather than making a statement with a strong sense of conviction. They may speak too quietly, or use words that communicate indecisiveness: “I think”; “I guess”; and so on.

So, pay attention to what you say and how you say it. To get a better sense of how your communication comes across, ask people you trust for feedback so you know what to watch for.

The good news is that you can address these issues through minor tweaks in your communication. Identify one small step you will take this week to put more power into your communication style. Remember that small steps can lead to big results.