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Take a look around you. At some point over the course of the day you are going to have to influence someone in order to accomplish whatever it is that you would like to do. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines influence as:
  • the power to change or affect someone or something : the power to cause changes without directly forcing them to happen
  • the act or power of producing an effect without apparent exertion of force or direct exercise of command
  • the power or capacity of causing an effect in indirect or intangible ways

Sadly, the ability to influence is a skill set that is lacking in most organizations. The good news is that it is a skill set that can be learned and once acquired it will set you apart from a large percentage of the workforce. It’s been referred to as more art than science but I believe that a strong case can also be made for paying attention to the science. There is no question that in this, the age of the interconnected, interdependent and increasingly global workforce your ability to influence matters more and more.

Forbes published a great article in 2011 called Five Steps to Increase Your Influence. The author made the connection that in the traditional hierarchical organization in which power is based on position; the person with power has the influence. However, in today’s flatter, more matrixed and team based models, power is more about one’s ability to influence and get things done outside of traditional reporting lines. In other words, the person with the influence has the power!

Influence is a combination of credibility and the capability of connecting with others in a way that is meaningful, comfortable and effective for them. I was working with a highly successful sales team last week and the discussion turned to another department in the organization that they referred to as “the department of business interruption”. Here’s a team of people that earn their living practicing the art of influence with their prospects and clients but forget to do the same thing when they get back to the office.

The Forbes article refers to five categories of influence styles that were developed by Discovery Learning Inc., and Innovative Pathways. Whether your preferred style is asserting, convincing, negotiating, bridging or inspiring will largely depend on your innate behaviour. One thing is for certain, this is not a one size fits all world. The person you are trying to influence has a preferred style as well and so it becomes important for you to be able to read the telltale signs.

Here are the five steps that will help you to increase your ability to influence:
  1. Understand your influencing style. Self-awareness is the starting point. Understanding your predominant behaviours will go a long way towards helping you determine not only what your preferred style is but why you operate that way. If you’re not sure, consider taking a quick assessment. I recommend the McQuaig Self-Development survey to my clients.
  2. Consider the situation you’re faced with. You absolutely have to take stock of the stakeholders that you need to win over to achieve an objective or overcome an obstacle. Understanding their preferred influencing style will go a long way to your ability to successfully navigate these waters. In the case of the sales team I was working with they hadn't taken into account that the department they were having challenges with dislikes pressure and deadlines, prefers to work methodically and systematically, requires all of the details and will not consider bending the rules…they’re there for a reason!
  3. Identify your gaps. Experience has shown me that often a person’s strengths can also be their Achilles heel. Knowing how to leverage your strengths is one thing. Knowing how to mitigate your gaps is the essence of self-awareness. Take a look at a sample of the McQuaig Self-Development report to see how easily this can be done.
  4. Develop. More and more organizations expect they’re people to invest in their own development. Once you know what your gaps are, it’s up to you to find ways to develop in those areas. Often that can be done with the assistance of your direct supervisor or the HR department within your organization. If you’re an entrepreneur, or work for a smaller organization, you might want to consider finding an accountability coach. Just remember, don't take on too much all at once.
  5. Practice. As the saying goes, Rome wasn't built in a day. I can tell you from personal experience the first time you shift into a different style of influencing will feel incredibly uncomfortable. The important thing to remember is that as you continue to practice you will not only build confidence and capability, you will begin to develop credibility within your organization.

Here’s why influence matters… the person with the influence has the power!

 


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