To work is to sell, regardless of whether you are “in sales” and whether you hold a position of authority over others. When you interact with people, generally you are either presenting an idea or listening to the ideas of others—either selling or being sold on something. To sell successfully, you must convince others that it is worth their time to listen to a proposal and to take action in accordance with it.
The Influence Continuum
Often when you want people to comply with your wishes, you will either not have or not want to use position power to accomplish your goal; instead, you will want to influence them. This article offers an approach to influencing that can be used by anyone in an organizational or team setting. With some adaptation, the approach can also be used in one-on-one situations.
When you want to influence others to listen to an idea and to take action that is different from their accustomed behavior, you must anticipate resistance. During the first stage, called “balk” because of this characteristic audience reaction, prepare to present your idea in ways that lower resistance. Most people do not feel a need to give up a current practice and adopt another unless they believe that the new practice will be significantly better in some way. Reactions may range from hesitation or agreement on a surface level only (“It sounds okay, but let me think it over”) to questions about potential benefits (“What’s in it for me?”) or direct challenges (“The way I’m doing things now works just fine; I don’t need to change”). Influencing others successfully during the “balk” stage, when people know little or nothing about your proposal and probably do not care to know more, calls for preparing an introduction to your idea that will create interest.
Lay the Groundwork. Before you unveil your proposal, set a tone of anticipation. Let people know that they can look forward to the change as a positive experience. Prepare for Resistance.
Develop strategies for handling resistance to the change. Anticipate people’s questions and qualms; devise appropriate responses and rehearse them before you meet with people to present the change.
Gather. Collect facts, figures, and benchmarking data from comparable situations to include in your initial presentation of the idea. These precedents will go a long way toward persuading others of the validity of your idea.
Plan a Powerful Presentation. Work on making your presentation powerful or dramatic. You might try an experiential approach. Let’s say you previously trained three colleagues from another department in a new problem-solving technique that you now want your team to adopt. You could invite these colleagues to a team meeting, explaining to them in advance that you want them to use the technique for solving a particular problem. At the meeting you would ask the team members to suggest a real workplace problem that needs to be solved. You would form three subgroups, each to be led by one of the colleagues. Then you would give each colleague a specific amount of time to come up with a solution and walk through it with the subgroup members. After the subgroups finished the task, you would reassemble the entire group to review the new technique, discuss ways in which it may be superior to techniques currently being used, and answer any questions. Also, you would encourage your three colleagues to share their experiences with the technique, its benefits, any difficulties they encountered, how they overcame those difficulties, and their personal reactions to the technique.
The “talk” stage refers to the actual presentation of your idea, during which you not only explain it but also engage your audience in a discussion of it. To make your presentation as effective as possible, consider the following questions and incorporate resulting insights:
- What draws my attention?
- What factors are compelling enough for me to try something despite my belief that I don’t need it?
- What persuades me? How am I persuaded?
Seasoned influencers often begin their presentations by acknowledging the negative emotions that people experience when confronted with change. Lead people to the realization that trying something new can yield gains, regardless of whether those gains are apparent at the outset. Following are recommendations of ways to influence successfully during the “talk” stage, when you are ready to present your idea to people who are willing to listen to it and discuss it.
Use Visual Aids. Use visual aids to supplement your message, but make sure that they do not constitute more than half of your presentation. Visual aids can be highly effective, but they cannot replace a passionate proposal and an effective rationale for implementing that proposal. Remember that visual aids are only one of the three essential “V’s” of an influential presentation: voice, verbiage, and visuals.
Paint a Vivid Picture. Use metaphors and vivid verbal pictures to engage the members of your audience and to help them envision your idea. When your purpose is to inspire and motivate rather than simply to edify, you need to appeal not only to people’s minds but also to their emotions and imaginations.
Acknowledge Disadvantages and Risks. Present and explain any potential disadvantages and risks associated with your idea. People know that every new venture has a “downside.” By readily acknowledging the particulars of that downside, you will be seen as honest, and you will probably preclude some audience attacks on your idea. Discussing disadvantages and risks also allows you to appeal to the courage and adventurous spirit of others in trying your idea.
Encourage Discussion. Make sure that you establish a dialogue with your audience. By inviting and welcoming feedback, you will arouse people’s interest and enhance the likelihood of buy-in.
Ensure Viability and Value. First ensure that the idea you are proposing is both doable and worth doing. Then assure your audience that it is viable and beneficial. Don’t worry about aiming slightly higher than existing comfort levels; that is the basis of continual improvement.
The third stage, “caulk,” extends throughout the process of implementing your idea. At the beginning of implementation you scrutinize your idea, looking for and “caulking” or repairing cracks or weak spots that might jeopardize the outcome. For example, if you find that you lack essential organizational support, you can cultivate a relationship with a top manager who is willing and able to champion your idea. Then, once implementation has begun, you and others involved in the process continue to assess progress. The “caulking” responsibilities that must be fulfilled consist of solving any problems that arise, obtaining any additional resources that are needed, and strengthening commitment when it begins to wane. Recommendations for successfully influencing others during the “caulk” stage, when you and they are working to reinforce implementation, are as follows:
Agree on Measurements of Success. Because we human beings have such a capacity for misunderstanding one another, it’s important that you establish clear and measurable gauges of success. Quantitative measures, although they need not be used exclusively, will tell you when and where caulking is needed.
Focus on Accomplishments. When setbacks occur, remind people of their accomplishments to date. Sometimes during implementation the future seems too far away, the goal less distinct than it once was, the need for your idea less pressing. If you are to be effective as an influencer, expect such developments and be prepared to caulk any fissures by restoring people’s flagging spirits.
Avoid Defensiveness. Don’t let defensiveness impair your ability to identify and solve problems. You won’t be able to caulk if you don’t know where the leaks are, and you won’t know where the leaks are if you refuse to listen to feedback. If you doubt the importance of paying attention to feedback, consider the following news story:
Identify the Real Causes of Problems. Use what is called the “five-why technique” to determine causes. This method consists of asking why a problem exists and continuing to ask why as each answer is received until you are certain that you have uncovered the real causes, rather than superficial reasons. You scrape through the various layers on the surface until you can clearly identify the cracks; then you can caulk appropriately.
Eventually you will cease to be the impetus behind your idea; after implementation the idea continues on the strength of its own momentum. By the time you reach this fourth stage, known as “walk,” you have conceived the idea, nurtured it through a period of gestation, helped to give it birth, facilitated its continued growth, and seen it reach maturity. Your idea has become standard operating procedure; now you can walk away and turn your attention to another project. Recommendations for influencing others during the “walk” stage, the process of releasing yourself from the day-to-day execution of your idea, are as follows:
Recognize People’s Efforts. Think of appropriate ways to recognize those who helped you to implement your idea. For example, you might write a formal letter of commendation to everyone who participated in the process and then send a copy to each person’s supervisor.
Celebrate Successful Implementation. It is important to hold some kind of celebration or ceremony to signify the end of the project. Not only does the hard work of those involved deserve public and lavish praise, but such a ritual also helps the participants to achieve closure and move on. People often remember the closing celebrations or ceremonies with as much intensity as they remember the many months preceding the project’s conclusion.
Encourage Networking. Encourage networking among those who have been part of the project. Frequently, all people need is a nudge in the right direction. Keep in touch with them, and ensure that they keep in touch with one another. Some teams find the initial success so heady an experience that they decide to undertake a second project. Other teams disband after the initial success, but their members network to keep alive their memories of the past, to learn about opportunities for other projects, and to encourage their hopes for the future.
Connect Implementers with Influencers. Make plans to inform your implementers when new opportunities arise, in connection with either your own new projects or the developing projects of others. Such referrals are appreciated by those being referred, as well as by those who need implementers.
Despite the usual negative connotation of the word “stalk,” it is used here in a positive sense to designate the fifth and final stage of influencing. It consists of dropping in on those who have implemented your idea and who continue to support it and maintain the implementation.
Recommendations for influencing others during the “stalk” stage, during which you strive to catch others in the act of doing the right things in the right way, are as follows:
Seek Periodic Progress Reports.
Publish What Has Been Learned.
Encourage Continual Improvement.
It’s long been observed that if you fail to plan, you can plan to fail. This adage serves as the philosophy behind the five-stage model presented in this article. Whether you use this model in influencing others or in teaching others to influence, your emphasis at each stage needs to be on careful planning to accomplish a goal.
Hope my writing is helping you 🙂
Share how you influence others?