My Gym went out of business on Friday. I know, I know, too bad for me right? Well, I’m not looking for sympathy, I’m trying to explain something important about expectations. The owners put a notice up early Friday morning explaining that they would be closing the doors for good at 5 pm. It didn’t really bother me all that much, because it didn’t really surprise me. I knew that they were having financial difficulties and that the deal they had in place to sell the facility to a prospective buyer had fallen through. So I was kind of expecting it to happen. No harm, no foul. I joined another gym the next day. Sunday morning I woke up at 730 am ready to try out the new facility. It turns out they don’t open on Sunday until 11 am. WAIT! WHAT? HOLD ON! THAT’S RIDICULOUS! I was an unhappy camper! I had some pretty choice words to say about the new Gym to my wife. And that was despite the fact that it was my own fault. I never bothered to look at the Sunday hours before I joined.
The story goes that when Steve Jobs was trying to entice John Sculley to leave Pepsi-Cola and join Apple he used a powerful communication tool. He asked Sculley, “Do you want to spend the rest of your life selling sugared water, or do you want to change the world?” Given that comparison, Sculley of course, moved to Apple. Steve Jobs was a Master Communicator. He was adept at going beyond the facts to inspire, engage and influence.
I’m trying to change the language that I use. It’s been an uphill process. All right, maybe you need a little of the backstory. A few months ago a colleague and I had a difference of opinion (notice I didn’t say disagreement?) about a business project. Somehow during that conversation she shared with me that I sounded disgruntled. It was like a slap in the face and my immediate reaction (internally) was denial. I’m not feeling disgruntled. Why would she say that? This is more about her than about me. When the sting started to fade I was able to consider the comment a little more constructively. What did I do that might cause her to see me that way? I came to a realization that the language (words) I often use and the focus of my casual conversation (problems, challenges and personal disasters) might be contributing.
I was reading an article – interview really – in the March HBR about Charisma and it got me thinking. The interview was with William von Hippel who, along with his colleagues, published the results of their study on thinking speed and Charisma. Their research seems to indicate that people who think quickly are perceived as more charismatic, independent of their IQ or other personality traits.
Well crap! That’s not what I want to hear. I am many things, but quick thinking? I think not. I’m great at Trivial Pursuit or even “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire”, but nobody in my family wants me on their team for Celebrity Name Game or Pictionary. Does that mean that my dream of being charismatic – or at least more charismatic – is doomed to failure? People with higher levels of Charisma get noticed and listened to. They’re more influential. I’d like that, wouldn’t you?
Last week I put together a proposal for a perspective client and had a colleague look at it before sending it out. After reading it, she pointed out some of the ways that I could improve the proposal, and did it in a way that left me feeling good about the whole exchange. I immediately made the changes that she recommended. It got me thinking about the skillful way that she made her suggestions and the art of giving effective feedback.
It’s such an integral part of building and maintaining strong relationships. We all need to be able to do it, but so often we have trouble with it. We stress about it, put it off and when it finally reaches a tipping point it often comes out in a way that ends up being seen as a personal attack or as unfair, or as just plain WRONG. It pushes the emotional buttons of the other person to the point where they become defensive and stop listening to the feedback. Feedback like that does no one any good. The good news is that there are a few simple rules to follow to make the feedback you give easier for others to hear and accept.
We were talking about building relationships in a personal leadership seminar I was teaching and Rachel brought up an interesting issue. She had been working hard to build a positive work relationship with one of her colleagues, but despite her best efforts, she didn’t feel that she had made much progress. She felt a bit frustrated and discouraged. She’d done everything she could think of, including grand gestures to win this person over, and despite his “thanks for the help” he always reverted back to the same apparent lack of interest. She was wondering what she was doing wrong and if it was a hopeless case.
Pretty much everything you do with other people requires influence. Nobody HAS to do what you want them to do. Even if you are the CEO of the whole organization, your ability to persuade others to embrace and follow your vision will make the difference between success and failure. Positional power only gets you so far – right up to about compliance. Reaching commitment and ownership requires influence, even at the top. And most of us aren’t the CEO. Which means that we have even less power and authority to get people to do what we need them to do.
Influence isn’t some Jedi mind control trick. It’s about getting your idea or proposal a fair hearing; it’s about being a trusted advisor; it’s about having credibility. Influence is the ability to positively affect the beliefs, attitudes or behavior of the person with whom you’re working. Some people are able to influence naturally. They seem to have an innate ability to build relationships and gain commitment. Others of us have to work at it. But it is a skill – like playing pool, skiing, or even dancing. You can learn how to improve your influence.
But beyond the actual skill set of influencing, there is a self-generated roadblock that prevents many of us from acquiring the influence that we’d like: Our Mindset about influencing.