Influencing isn’t a dirty word

influencing

Influencing isn’t a dirty word

It’s not overtly spoken about but there is an implicit feeling amongst many people that influencing others is a bad thing, synonymous with manipulating; and this is why few people openly admit to wanting to influence others. But the reality is that we all influence our peers, co-workers and family on a frequent basis, we just don’t always realise we are doing it, and admittedly some people are better at it than others.

For those who aren’t too comfortable with the art of influencing, it is actually a key skill to learn, especially in the work environment, and it’s not about getting your own way every time or using dubious means to get what you want; that is manipulation. Influencing is ideally about finding a middle ground where both parties are able to benefit from the outcomes, or finding a way to share your ideas in a way that will engage others and encourage them to consider you point of view. Being able to influence others is therefore an absolutely vital skill for leaders in particular to develop, and while some will resort to employing manipulation or fear in order to manage their staff and get what they want, true leaders know that effective influencing comes from understanding others and wanting the best outcomes for all.

Effective influencing

There are three main approaches to successfully influence others, without resorting to underhanded means. These are consultation, inspiration and persuasion.

Consultation is the approach that tends to offer the most neutral and mutually beneficial outcomes, as it revolves around discussing the issue with those you want to influence, and involving them in the decision making process. This approach is highly effective especially in team environments where changes need to be made which will rely on the team’s input. When people feel like they are involved and able to contribute (and that their contribution will be listened to) they feel respected, trusted and engaged, and know that even if their current idea is not implemented, they still have a voice in the team. Consultation is a very important skill to develop, especially as a leader, as it is an effective way of building engaged and satisfied teams and encouraging everyone to work towards the same goal.

The next approach is inspiration, and this is a method that tends to appeal to the emotional side of an individual. Inspiration will only work if what is being proposed aligns with the values and ideals of those you are trying to influence. When it works it can be extremely powerful, however without this emotional connection, the impact will be voided, or may even generate resentment if the suggestion strongly opposes the individual’s values (a good example of this is in politics, whereby candidates try and win people over by appealing to their emotions as much as their logical mind).

The third method, persuasion, is often the most time-consuming and energy draining one as it requires the relentless promotion of an idea, which may come up against strong resistance over and over again, which needs to be addressed. Persuasion relies on logic and facts to demonstrate that an idea is valid, and while it may be relatively simple to assemble the facts to support an idea, the difficulty with persuasion arises when being challenged. Many challenges raised by the opposition may be driven by emotions, rather than logic which can make arguing a point extremely difficult. This is why persuasion requires a lot of persistence and energy; but when used effectively the outcomes are often longer lasting; rather than a short term bout of inspiration which may falter over time, because persuasion deals with facts, once an individual’s mind has changed, it is normally a long term change (unless the reality of the proposal doesn’t live up to the expectation).

Knowing the different approaches to influencing others is key, and to successfully influence others you first need to identify the most appropriate approach for your target audience. However this is far from all an individual needs to do; to be a successful influencer the most important thing you need is a foundation of trust with those you’re trying to influence. Without this it often won’t matter how sincere you are; if people don’t trust you, they will always be resistant to following your lead. In addition to being trustworthy, it’s also important you communicate your ideas well. Even the best ideas can fail to get off the ground if they aren’t conveyed effectively; so if you are struggling to influence others, perhaps consider if your communication skills need brushing up.

Learning to effectively influence others is a skill everyone can benefit from, both professionally and personally, and it’s an important skill to master, as when done with positive intentions, it can benefit all involved. So it’s time we stop thinking of influencing as a bad thing, and start to recognise that it’s not a dirty word.