I’ve just been working with a group of managers from a large organisation on Influencing skills. In this current climate, the ability to influence people and events and remain calm and balanced under pressure is perhaps even more important than ever.
We do lots of things on the Influencing Skills programme to provide people with as much practice as possible and they receive feedback about their style and the impact that they have on others. We use professional actors so participants explore real situations that they have either faced in the past or need to face in the future. What struck me this week is the complexity of the whole topic of influencing and the range of situations that participants brought to the workshop.
By focusing on behaviour we help people think about how they are using their voice, body language and the words they use but there is much more to influencing than this. The work with actors allows us to explore all these angles of influencing as well as the basics.
Things like being really clear about your objectives is vital as well as having clear evidence or factual information that supports your views and allows the conversation to be based on reality rather than abstract ideas.
We sometimes enter into dialogue with people with assumptions about how it will go and this can affect our approach. We give up before we have even begun and whilst this may not come across in what we say it will come across in how we sound and look. Our views about ourselves and others comes out in the language we use - patronising when we feel someone needs “looking after”, tentative when we feel overpowered. Emotive or personal language can ignite strong feelings in others that then get in the way of problem solving. This is especially true when handling conflict or performance related problems.
Influencing a situation sometimes involves challenging the boss which for many people at the moment feels difficult- we might be reluctant to do this if we feel our jobs are at risk. Weighing up the costs and benefits of raising an issue or not can be a useful and objective approach to assess this. Explaining your thought process at the start of a conversation and even your fears and how you feel about something can signal to the other person the importance of what you are raising which underlines why they need to listen.
Finally, in my experience of working with groups, the most common mistake that people make is to think that influencing is about selling and telling not asking and listening. People will accept an idea if it fits with their goals and helps them - they won’t if you simply tell them. The old cliche of putting yourself in the other person’s shoes is so key when influencing. What’s in it for them? How much can they do? and how do they like to hear information are all questions to ask yourself and them.