The Power of Influence

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I was in a meeting today and the following thought is one that resurrected itself in my mind: Although you cannot control another individual, you can influence people and have them perform in ways that benefit you. The bottom line is that if you TELL others what to do, they are less likely to listen and they may even avoid or ignore you. The more effective way to go about this is to influence others and provide them with sound reasoning and incentive to help you out.
Not having the word “behavior” in my academic degree, much of the following is based on years of experience in working with people across various levels and within very dynamic organizations. A few ways that I believe that you can go about influencing others in a positive way include:
Relationship: Determine what type of relationship you have with the other party (or parties) that you are trying to influence. If this relationship is not, at a minimum, in a comfortably state then you must look at improving the situation prior to moving forward. Start by understanding their needs, having casual dialogue on unrelated topics, asking for their advice on another topic, etc. This is a critical step in establishing a foundation on which an effective relationship can be built.
Audience Needs: Now that you have built a comfortable, and hopefully effective, relationship the next step is to understand what motivates your audience. Is it such things as praise, positive reinforcement or even constructive criticism? Or, are they more interested in material items such as monetary rewards or incentives? Once you have established what drives your audience you may think about how to present your request and the message that will be used.
Messaging: As with many things, how you craft your message or request will be quite important. This is where many folks that skip steps 1 and 2 tend to drop the ball. You will likely not get a positive response by dictating to your audience what you want them to do and even if you have built a good relationship and do not convey your request well, you may then cause the audience to question your motives thus creating tension or uncertainty. Let the audience know the back story, what you are providing and what you are needing from them and why. In addition, help them envision the future achievement by letting them know why they were chosen, how what they provide will contribute value and that their efforts will be appreciated. Remember, doing this without building credibility first may have the message come off as fake, so please be mindful of the balance that is necessary here. When going into a situation for the first time, if there aren’t opportunities to first build a relationship per say, begin by asking questions and listening. That will establish that you want to get to know the person and acknowledge / appreciate their insights.
Flattery: People tend to respond to flattery. It goes much deeper than the “audience’s needs” discussed previously by targeting an emotional response from your audience. Realistically, even if the audience does not feel as though the thought is sincere, there is a level of appreciation that they feel because you tried. But, the key is to be sincere, because recurring notions of insincerity will brand you as someone who is a bit on the “fake” side. When using flattery, try to consider the reasoning behind it and if there is potential that it can be received as insincere, focus on adjusting the message.
Give and Take: Not to be cliché, but “everything has a price.” Think about something that you receive for free; is there an expectation that you will provide a donation? Think about the last time someone gave you a discount; was it so that you might buy other items, a greater quantity or merely return to the establishment and purchase items on another day? With this, ensure that you strike a balance and try not to always give or always take. This will allow for a sustainable relationship, and provide a more value-added outcome once the request is complete. Also, remember to treat others fairly and equally, as the only way to get where you want to go is by surrounding yourself with good people. These individuals are more likely to stand by your side if you give them just as much as you expect to receive.
Listen: Do you truly listen to others when they are responding to a question that you’ve asked? Did you even ask a question in the first place? Listening is a key form of communication and is often overlooked when you know an answer that is better, have information that is more up-to-date or just merely want to be the one to bring a solution to the table. A key way to influence others is to begin by listening. When you begin to listen, you’ve overcome the first barrier of communications. The audience will now feel more connected to you and you will learn at least one thing you weren’t aware of before you began listening. This knowledge may or may not move the needle or provide an innovative solution, BUT gaining the individuals trust and having them think of you as an ally will give you more that you could have ever expected in the long run. Also, I know that someone may call or text, but unless it is a dire emergency, please respect the other person’s time and do not let that distract you. As a matter of fact, take all distractions off the table and focus on listening!
Ask Questions: This is simple. You are now engaged in the conversation. So ask questions. As you listen, ask for clarification, ask them how their response affected something / someone else, ask them what they think went well or could have gone better. This will bring a level of stimulation to the conversation, again, helping to build the relationship and also helping them express ideas and feelings, thus helping them feel a bit more special. Ask questions that have a purpose and which are specific, as complex or confusing questions may prevent a fluid dialogue and the conversation may hit a long pause or end awkwardly.
Do Not Command: In general, I am almost certain that people do not want to hear about what you want from them, but rather what you will do for them. Ensure that your message does not sound like “You need to do this or else…” or “You are required to comply with the following items…” Instead, convey your message like “I understand that you have considerable knowledge on the following topics, would you mind putting together some insights to help the team out?” or “As you are the expert in this focus area, would you mind putting together a plan on how we will comply to the regulatory requirements?” It may be difficult at times to “be nice,” however when someone receives your message, they are more likely to do what you want if you don’t come off as commanding.
When it comes to getting along with other people and influencing their actions, it really does come down to a choice that you make in how you approach the situation. By following some fairly simple rules, similar to the above noted suggestions, not only will people be happier with you, you will likely be happier with yourself.

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