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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.

Helping managers coach graduates

Corporate graduate development programmes come in many flavours. Size of intake and duration are obvious differences. But there are many more subtle and complex issues that vary from business to business.

Probably one of the most difficult balances an employer has to consider is the extent to which the graduate is there to deliver work for their manager, whilst the manager is there to help the graduate develop. Of course both are true, and they can often be the same thing, but it is a balance that requires skill and attention.

This is further complicated by the need for a line manager to see the graduate develop in a specific role, whilst in many businesses a “rounded graduate” is the ultimate goal of the development programme.

I’ve just come back from delivering a 2-day programme for supporting managers in getting the most from the graduates they manage. By adding this dimension to the graduate development programme, we can support graduates with more sustainable and context specific learning.

Perhaps equally important, we can help managers become much more engaged in the graduate development programme, better equipped to support it, and encouraged by the value the business places in their role.

As well as exploring the specific perspectives of the managers on the programme and getting them to work on these together, we use the GROW model to explore the coaching process.

We also look at behaviour - the application of theory - using 1:1 work with actors on what we call real-play, so managers can experiment with discussing difficult performance issues with real people, gaining valuable personal feedback.

We’ll be meeting the managers again in a few weeks, on the follow up day …

Training hard and soft skills combined

I’ve just come back from running a 3-day programme in partnership with some consultants from Enviros.

This is quite an unusual mix in terms of subject matter, training content, and approach. Essentially, we are delivering a programme to assist people in a regulatory role in developing their skills for better long term outcomes with those they regulate - it’s a really challenging balance they have to strike!

The way we have chosen to achieve this mix is through a variety of inputs covering hard technical skills with soft influencing perspective, all woven around a business simulation which presents 3 “case studies” taken from real world situations. This simulation is then supported with actors playing the roles of key stakeholders.

To make this work, we’ve invested a great deal in building our team:

  • We all need to fully understand the strategic drivers facing the client and the complexities facing employees as they try to implement this strategy.
  • We all need to understand the underpinning theory of the programme whether it falls into our field of expertise or not.
  • We need to learn to flex our style of training so we present a consistent and credible face to the people on the programme.

A programme such as this presents unique challenges. I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how much I’ve learned from my co-presenters and the challenge of working together, and how much I’ve enjoyed it.

More importantly, we appear to be getting good results and further sign-up.

Read more about business simulation  |  See our case studies  | Search by keywords

Acting Up!

In my first two weeks I’ve been amazed by the huge impact our actors have made on the leadership programmes I’ve observed.

Funny and sensitive to what the delegates were dealing with; our actors brought a human approach to playing out “difficult person” meetings as delegates reconstructed challenging scenarios to practice ways of interrupting established relationship patterns.

I had no idea how true to work life they would be. Disbelief often followed when delegates would tell the actors “That is the kind of thing he would say”...or “you must know this person, she reacts in that exact way”. At maximum stretch, one delegate remarked to the actor...”I don’t like you”. The actor laughed and said “You mean you don’t like my character, right?”

Not only were the “real play” delegates emotionally engaged, their team of colleagues observing were on hand to guide them through difficult interactions. “Time out”, the delegate would say at sticky points in their “real play” so that they could rewind or change direction. With coaching from “the floor”, actors and delegates responded to suggested new behaviours. The audience were stage directors, trusted with straight feedback to encourage their colleague to try out new techniques and gain win-win in their meeting. Whether in the hot seat or observing, there were light bulb moments on both sides as delegates cringed in recognition of themselves when meetings went pear shaped.

Each of our actors expertly tuned in to characteristics and internal politics defined by the delegate. They portrayed the characters well, responding naturally and afterwards, let the delegate know what it was like being on the receiving end of their communication.