The thought of influencing others may be daunting, but we influence with every aspect of our behavior. Should your intention be to increase your influence, Professor G. Richard Shell of Wharton’s Center for Leadership and Change Management, provides an effective strategy:
First, you need to understand who to talk to and, just as importantly, in what order. That means identifying the connections between people and how to draw the shortest distance between any two of them in an organization (it’s almost never a straight line). Once you’ve got a plan for strategically reaching out to the right people in the right sequence, you must map out what you want from each person.
Have a very specific goal for each encounter. It may not be money or authority. It could be that you need them to open the door to someone they know better… or to give you access to some important information. Having a systematic strategy for these conversations beats just following your gut every time. You need to be aware of who may put up resistance, what kind of resistance it might be, and how you can adjust your pitch to better appeal to them. A one-size-fits-all approach is almost always doomed to fail.
1. It’s always about relationships! As the African folk saying goes: “If you want to go fast, go alone. But if you want to go far, go together.” Ask yourself throughout the workday: “In this interaction, how can I leave the relationship better than I found it? Can I find a way to help this person solve a problem, support them with an important task, or assure them that their efforts are noted and appreciated?”
2. Grab recipients’ attention. Develop and practice the perfect five-minute pitch. Nobody is going to listen longer than five minutes if you don’t get that right. We teach a simple four-step structure for that pitch: 1) frame the problem so they can understand it and accept it as legitimate, 2) explain how the problem arose, 3) propose your answer in simple terms, and 4) make the case why your answer is the best one compared with obvious alternatives.
3. Give others credit. When you make others look good, they want to support you. By far the most powerful motivation in the social aspects of work is the need to feel respected and appreciated. Self-esteem is like oxygen — people need it to live. When you share the credit for success in important undertakings, and when possible, simply give away the credit entirely to others. People will come back to you the way bees return to a flower that has nourished them. Of course, it does not pay to be a doormat when others steal the credit away from you. But when you can be generous, be as generous as possible.
4. Practice fairness. In the American South, people like to say, “Pigs get fat, but hogs get eaten.” Build trust by refusing to overreach. Working relationships thrive on reciprocity, the give-and-take of favors, accommodations, taking turns, and exchanging information. When you are seen mainly as a “taker” in social interactions, people stop wanting to cooperate with you. That puts sand into the gears of working life and will ultimately make your job much, much harder.
5. Develop multiple paths, then pick the best one for the most people. Brainstorming a variety of options for solving problems rather than settling on the first one you happen to stumble upon will give you the chance to enhance working relationships with more people. You will also solve problems in ways that do not create new or unexpected issues for others. There’s a good chance the first solution you come up with will work well for you, but the second or third may work equally well for you but also better for others. To put it simply: consult widely before deciding what to do. Then examine the available options from multiple perspectives, not just your own.
Creating a strategy for influential conversations trumps winging it every time!
Professor G. Richard Shell teaches in Wharton Executive Education’s Executive Negotiation Workshop: Negotiate with Confidence, among many others.
“Leadership is influence… nothing more, nothing less!”