Many new managers make the mistake of assuming that once they have the fancy title of “director” or “vice president,” they’ll have an easier time getting employees to do what they’re asked to do. Unfortunately, that doesn’t really happen these days, because the nature of leadership has changed: yesterday’s practice of barking orders and demanding action has been replaced by today’s consensus-building on the why, how, what, and where of a project before employees will even start to tackle it. Sure, as the boss you can always lay down the hammer. But effective managers know that true leadership is more about motivating through engagement than about forcing compliance and developing your influencing without authority chops can help.
Think back to the best managers you’ve ever had. They probably weren’t in your face much, were they? Rather, they created environments in which you wanted to take action and you wanted to do your best and get stuff done. Here are eight ways to create that sort of environment for your own employees.
1) Understand resistance to change
Employees resist change for many reasons, including unhappiness over loss of control or power, fear of the unknown, or apprehension about failing in the new way of doing things. After all, it’s usually easier for them to keep doing what they’ve been doing (even when those actions aren’t in the company’s best interest). Be prepared to address this adherence to the status quo, and be clear about why change is necessary and how it will improve the company’s future. Invite employees to be part of the problem-solving process: someone who is a driver of change is much less likely to resist it! Build a climate of trust in which employees can ask questions—and fail—while learning new processes. As much as possible, minimize surprises by keeping employees informed.
2) Follow the communication preferences of your audience
Before you can start to change other people’s opinions, they first must hear what you have to say. To increase the effectiveness of your message, it’s critical to communicate with people in the manner in which they prefer to receive information. For example, if your boss likes to get the bottom line before the details, then lead with your headline before inundating him or her with information about how you came to that recommendation. When trying to influence people, it’s critical to adjust your communication style to one that your audience will best receive.
3) Develop your personal power
So “likable” is a good trait to have when trying to influence people. Having more connections within the company can also boost your influence—so get out of your office and meet people. Set a goal for yourself to meet two new people within your company each month. (That’s only one person every two weeks!) You may be amazed by how those relationships can help you in the future!
4) Pass the microphone
Each person is born with two ears and one mouth—and great salespeople know how important it is to prioritize actively listening to what other people have to say over telling them what you think. If you want people to listen to you, you must first listen to them and address their concerns by adapting your pitch according to what you hear. Remember, influence is never a “one and done” proposition (particularly on challenging topics), and changing someone’s mind typically requires multiple kicks at the can.
5) Stress benefits over features
Technical or logical types often forget that they need more than just a lot of good data in order to influence someone. The benefits need to be spelled out in order to sway someone to your side. Why is your option the best one? Why is it important? How does it meet customer expectations better than other options? How does your idea benefit the company or link to a key company strategy? Having clear answers to those questions can go a long way toward changing someone’s mind.
6) Synthesize, synthesize, synthesize
Think back to a time when someone lost his or her audience by going into too much detail during a presentation. This is pretty common, particularly when a person has spent weeks (or months!) working on a project and is eager to share everything about the excruciating process and details that led to the answer. Unless someone specifically asks for or expects details, though, it’s better to simplify and summarize complex data into bullet points, graphs, and pictures, particularly as attention spans continue to shrink (and lengthy e-mails often go unread).
7) Finesse your elevator pitch
People present (and hear) elevator pitches all the time: when arguing a technical point with a colleague; while trying to convince a boss that a new idea, project, or approach has value; or when attempting to persuade customers to spend their money on certain products or services, for example. An elevator pitch is merely a brief overview that’s designed to start a more in-depth conversation (which is where real influencing can commence). Having an elevator pitch at the ready can mean the difference between actually getting the chance to influence someone or having the door shut in your face.
8) Prepare and persist
It’s said that the best negotiators spend ten hours in preparation for one hour of negotiation. Do your homework so you understand the real concerns of the person you’re trying to influence, then address them to show that you actually care about the issues that are important to that person. Real influence springs from the partnership of multiple people working together to tackle problems.
Influencing without authority is the secret weapon that helps leaders at all levels of the organization succeed (regardless of their position titles). So get cracking now on these eight skills! What other strategies have you tried that have been successful at influencing others?