10 tips for becoming an influential person
People often ask us how to get better at influencing - a team, colleagues, upper management, the boss.
Unfortunately, there is no formula. Each situation is different and each person you wish to influence will be persuaded by different factors - such as budgets, values, creativity, tradition, ambition, strategic plans, turn of mind and even turn of phrase.
However, although there’s no recipe for influencing individuals or individual situations, you can become a more influential person. That way, you have an edge: impact and respect. With that advantage in hand, you can set out to discover ways to influence that are effective in your company’s culture.
Here are some tips for becoming a more influential person.
1. Be a source of reliable, up-to-date information in at least one arena that the company values
IT changes, strategic alignments, new managers, periods of growth - in all organizations, people are inevitably in the throes of solving problems, making decisions and creating plans - and prize those with judgment based on specialist knowledge. Study the trends in your organisation. Then become knowledgeable if not expert in a field of business or management practice that is likely to help managers make decisions and progress plans in the near to medium term.
2. Be emotionally intelligent
Emotional intelligence, Chuck Wolfe reminds, is not about being nice or kind. Rather, it is being wise to the ways of making people feel accepted, valued and appreciated in one to one interactions. That’s manipulating feelings, some say, though most people agree it is simply being careful about what you say and how you say it. Tact isn’t easy to develop if it’s not your natural style, yet is worth cultivating.
3. Develop as a negotiator
A negotiation is a discussion for purposes of identifying common purpose or acceptable compromise. A skilful negotiator knows how to facilitate the discussion, yes; yet also how to recognise when someone is caving in – a dangerous position which could exact a price in pent-up resentment. True negotiation is a rare skill that is highly prized in most organisations.
4. Develop as a delegator
By strict definition, delegation is assigning some of your tasks to another person. The art is in keeping the tasks for which you are a rare resource (rather than those you particularly like to do), and in turning over the remaining tasks to the right people. Part of delegation is also recognising when someone is underemployed.
Learning to identify a person’s strengths and talents, planning the reporting process, and calculating when to intervene once you’ve delegated are interesting subjects of study and highly regarded capabilities.
5. Be clear and confident about saying yes and no
Sometimes people who want to get ahead say yes to everything, believing managers will see them as cooperative, helpful team players. However, once you say yes and don’t deliver – or deliver less than excellent work - whatever excuses you make, your reputation takes a nose dive and is a long time in recovery.
Best to judge what you can and know you will do. People will respect you for your candour and also trust implicitly that when you say yes, they can count on you. That way you avoid forever the need for embarrassing excuses and you gain a reputation for quality and reliability. That carries a lot of weight when you set out to influence.
There’s a sign on my desk that says my Yes jar is full. You’re welcome to try it yourself.
6. Be articulate in all your communication
Except in an urgent situation, take the time to organise your communication. Think through the key point you want to make, and then be simple and direct when making it. People will be grateful to you for being efficient and effective, and respect you for clear thinking. This is true whether your communication is a simple request or a long, complex report. You become more powerful when you can outline, create transition sentences, and develop an idea logically.
7. Accept responsibility when you’ve made a mistake, whether in judgment or deed
Especially if you are a manager, it is easy to leave what’s your fault as someone else’s problem. Your staff may grumble behind your back yet aren’t likely to complain. However you will suffer in reputation and loss of respect. If you take responsibility for what you’ve decided or done, people will respect you and also will be more likely to help you put it right, should you wish some help.
Owning up has the further benefits of creating a personal sense of integrity, alleviating stress, and allowing you to learn from mistakes instead of sweeping them away.
8. Become a skilled listener
Whenever you become aware of something – whether you see, hear, read or even sense it – the most natural thing in the world is to respond, saying what’s on your mind. Perhaps the input sparks a thought, a question, an idea, makes you angry; calls up an old grievance, a lesson you’ve learned, or a belief that’s developed over time. You’ll want to express it.
What’s important here is that your response reflects your background, conclusions, perceptions and viewpoints – everything that makes up who you are at a given point in time. So you hear, read, and see through filters, and may miss the point of someone whose background and viewpoints are very different from your own.
When you are a skilled listener, you set your own perceptions aside temporarily in order to give your full attention to what another person has said. That doesn’t mean you accept or agree; it means you try to see things as the other does and to assess based on that fuller understanding. When you combine the new information with yours you often find a broader base for judgment.
There are manuals and courses galore on listening skills; be sure that you check out the activities of the course rather than simply the outline. You want a course that helps you discover and recognise your own perceptions and filters, as well as a course that helps you build patience and ability to focus your attention and process new information. Listening is about learning to learn more than you knew before.
9. Focus on situations, never on blame
You can’t know motive from behaviour, although it is so easy to interpret motives most of us slip into that as the default. They missed their sales targets; we need some motivational work here. She came to the meeting late; doesn’t she respect the rest of us? They kept the information to themselves; when did gate keeping become part of this culture?
Here are alternative settings. They missed their sales targets; what might be the reasons and can we help? She came late to the meeting; how unlike her; I wonder whether anything is amiss.
The real point here is looking panoramically at a situation and seeing how the parts are moving within the whole.
You will be greatly appreciated by everyone involved any time you can defuse blame in order to focus attention on the dynamics and ways to move ahead.
10. Take the initiative and keep learning
In her first job after film school, Laura was on location and responsible for catering. After hours she kept up with technology and in particular taught herself how to use a brand new movie camera that was on location for some specialist shots. There was one camera and only one person – a celebrated cinematographer - knew how to use it.
As it happened, the cinematographer left in an emotional moment and the film company was stuck in progress with scenes requiring the camera. Of course you know what happened; Laura stepped forward and showed she could use the camera to a high professional standard. She bypassed many steps up the career ladder and became a respected cinematographer sooner than she might have otherwise.
‘Nuff said. Keep alert to what’s coming along. Don’t wait for someone to offer training courses. Be proactive; take initiative, and keep learning. You will gain a reputation as someone who is willing and ready to undertake what is largely unfamiliar yet what may give the organisation a competitive edge.