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Influencing

What is effective influencing?

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.

For more information about work we do please link to personal skills training, case studies and role plays.

Influencing skills for 16 year olds - do they need them?

A few weeks ago someone who had attended one of our influencing programmes called us to see if we could help out.  She runs projects for The Groundwork Trust in North Wales and on one project, a group of 16 year olds are hoping to persuade their town council and a major private sector employer to make the town carbon neutral.  They’re doing various pieces of research and will then present their findings in September this year - quite a challenge.  As we’ve been Carbon Neutral for several years and as part of our own CSR approach we offered to do the work for expenses and the experience.

We’ve got 3 hours with them and have decided to use some of the basics from Myers Briggs to create a structure through which they can build their presentation.  Al Gore’s film An Inconvenient Truth has provided lots of examples of different approaches to communication (data, big picture, logic, emotional charge etc) and of course is subject matter at the heart of their project.  As an aside, if you’ve not seen the film, it’s well worth watching, as a study in getting your message across.

I have to say that the idea of working with a group of 16 year olds rather than one of our regular, corporate groups is raising my anxiety levels a little.   I’m not sure what I’ve got to teach them, after all, if I look at my 15 year old daughter, she’s already one of the best influencers I know.  I’ll blog again after it’s all over.

Communication with confidence

I recently ran an influencing skills programme for junior managers.  Considerable time was spent on helping the delegates understand their preferred style of influencing - its strengths and weaknesses and the need to flex one's style according to the person and situation. 

Effective communication lies at the heart of effective influencing. One of the delegates really struggled to be clear and concise under pressure and so the value of their message was often lost. Their confidence had suffered as a result. In working this through I found a helpful way of helping them work on this was to encourage them to think about their spoken communication as if it were written in a book.

A strong story (overall message) and clear structure is needed at the outset followed by chapters (themes), paragraphs (key points), and regular punctuation (to accentuate and break up the points). We worked on how this thinking could help both as part of planning and preparation and also during the actual situation (using professional actors).  It was great to see how looking at this issue from a slightly different perspective (and giving the delegate the opportunity to try this out for themselves) genuinely helped improve their communication skills and importantly, gave them new found confidence that they could be effective at influencing as a result.

Success!

We have just secured a big contract with one of our major clients. The contract is their personal effectiveness training framework and covers areas such as presentation, writing, influencing and media skills. As a result of the win we will be able to continue to provide their Influencing People at Work, Influencing Businesses and Introduction to Networking programmes.

We have also been selected to work with them to design and deliver a new programme called Business Partnering. They, like many other large companies, are adopting this approach with their internal support functions such as HR, Finance, Corporate Affairs and IT. We’re delighted to be able to continue our relationship with them, and especially to be involved in the Business Partnering programme.

Sharing knowledge

Last week we ran another one of our quarterly forums - a regular event that we have for the office team and associates. The forums serve a number of functions. They force us to do some reading and research - something that is often overtaken by more pressing work! They also enable us to discuss topics and issues and to share ideas. We are keen to keep our programmes up to date and fresh and the forums provide a place where new ideas can be discussed. I was really struck last week by the value of the forums - the topic we had picked was influencing and assertiveness as this is an area that we do a lot of work on with clients. In just two hours we had generated a long list of ideas for exercises and activities. We also explored the link of influencing skills to assertive behaviour and self belief and the extent to which this should be explored with delegates.One of the challenges we face along with many other organisations is how to share the vast knowledge and experience of our team. The forums certainly provide a vehicle for doing this.

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