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Key Components of Successful Influence

by Eric Beckman, published on LinkedIn, April 10, 2018

Eric Beckman is President of Barnes & Conti and regularly facilitates Exercising Influence™, the most popular influence training course worldwide.

Successful Influence

Successfully influencing others depends on a number of factors. Considering some of the key components that go into successful influencing will help you plan the best approach for reaching your needs. What are you trying to achieve, who are you influencing and what are their needs, when is the influence happening, and what is the overall context of the situation in which you need to influence?

Be Strategic

It is well worth taking some time up front to capture your understanding and knowledge of the big picture. Developing a clear understanding of all the components in a given influence situation helps to identify and mitigate roadblocks to success. 

We are often faced with getting results in a limited amount of time, and rush toward solutions without adequately considering all the components of a situation first. Emergency responders are trained to assess the whole situation for risks before jumping into rescue and treatment mode. A little extra time invested at the beginning helps gain a clearer picture of the situation and avoid negative consequences.

Thinking strategically about your influence challenges should include identifying what you want to achieve with your efforts. 

A Little Planning Goes a Long Way

While you won’t always have the luxury of time to fully plan for your influencing opportunities, it is a huge advantage when you do. Writing out a simple statement describing your needs and outcomes is the best place to start.

Influence is about getting another person to agree to take some action. What do you really want or need to happen? It is important to use clear and unambiguous language in your description, while avoiding terms that may be hard to define or observe. If you want to get “buy-in,” what does that mean? What does “collaboration” look like? How will you know you have been successful in your influencing efforts? Focus on what you want the other to do, and avoid trying to get them to stop doing something. 

Consider who you will we be influencing after clearly identifying what you want or need. How do they tend to respond to being influenced by you and by others? What is the current state of your relationship with them? What vested interests do they have in support of your needs? What might prevent them from saying yes to you? How will you respond if they become resistant or defensive? Answering these questions and considering your options ahead of time helps you stay focused and calm.

Context, Context, Context

The context in which your influence opportunity occurs helps guide your approach. Important considerations include timing, people, the organization, culture, external events, and current issues. It is easy to overlook or dismiss the impact of context on the people you need to influence, yet context may have unexpected impact on your success. Context is often the most variable of the key components in successful influence, and well worth paying attention to. 

Do you have enough time to accomplish your objective in one attempt? Is this a good time to try and influence them, given everything else going on? What is going on with the person or people you need to influence, and how might that affect your chosen outcome? Are they in a good mood or bad one? 

Is anything happening in the organization that might impact how receptive or open they are to being influenced? Are there any cultural issues that could impact the approach you take to influencing? What adjustments should you make for differences in organizational culture when working across functional silos? What current events or other industry and public issues might impact the influence opportunity?

Developing an Approach

Once you have considered and identified your influence objective, the person or people you need to influence, and the context you will be influencing in, you can then draft an approach using specific influence behaviors that will most likely lead to success.

If the person you need to influence typically requires some kind of incentive to make agreements, is there anything you might be able to offer them? Are they the kind of person who needs to feel like the idea is theirs to move forward? Is trust high or low between you? Show empathy and build trust by putting yourself “in their shoes.” Do they only take action when there are clear negative consequences for not taking action? How might you carefully remind them of the negative consequences without making it seem like a threat? Do they know what you are asking them to do? If not, you will need to tell them at some point.

Developing a basic planned approach for a few key influence behaviors will help address known potential issues and move towards your objective. If you are unsure which behaviors might be most appropriate in a given situation, what might help you find out? Is there anyone you trust who might provide some help in your preparation?

Listen, Listen, Listen

Listening is a key consideration when developing a tactical approach for moving forward with your communications. When things get urgent, or start to feel time constrained, most people have a tendency to become more directive and expressive in their influence communications. They can end up doing too much talking without enough listening.

As the famous author and co-founder of the Harvard Project on Negotiation, William Ury, likes to emphasize, “Listening, I believe, is the missing half of communication. Absolutely necessary, but often overlooked.” Listening helps us understand the other person better, and opens the door for them listening to us. Listening helps us connect and build rapport with the other person. Building relationships directly supports getting results. 

It’s not enough to just take-in what they are saying as a way to formulate your own response, or how to counter their resistance, or to develop a better argument. All of these just keep your attention on yourself. Real listening puts the spotlight on the other person, it is how to read other people and uncover their needs. After all, everyone likes to be heard.

Try to give others 100% of your attention while they are speaking. To help with that, you can take a minute or two before engaging with others to listen to your self. Try to clear your head and recognize if you are tense, upset, or angry. Acknowledge your feelings, and then take a breath to let them go. Good negotiators do it all the time, and negotiation is all about influence.

What Happened?

It is easy to just move on after taking the time and making the effort to influence others. At the very least, thank people for their time and effort even when they don’t agree to take an action for you. Whenever possible, it is useful to take a minute or two to consider what worked and what didn’t in your influence efforts. Reviewing your performance is one of the best ways to consciously improve and optimize your skills going forward.

The Key Points

In summary, the following steps will help you move towards more effective influencing on a day-to-day basis:

  • Be Strategic—Take some time up front to capture your understanding and knowledge of the big picture.
  • Define the Influence Objective—What do you really want or need to happen?
  • Know Who Will be Influenced—Whom do you need to influence, and what will help you succeed with them?
  • Consider the Context—What is going on with the people, the organization, the industry, and the world when you plan to influence, and how will that impact your choice of behaviors?
  • Plan a Tactical Approach for Success—What behaviors seem most appropriate given the situation and people? If you aren’t sure what will work best with someone, you can always ask.
  • Debrief with What Worked and What Didn’t—Capture the things that went well, and those you want to do differently next time.

While it is easier to describe than it is to execute, keeping these tips in mind and writing down your options is a great place to start. Go forth and influence!

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