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.
What you get on the outside – your behaviors – is a function of what you start with on the inside – your mindset. Your beliefs and attitudes about influencing will have a dramatic impact on how – and maybe if – you engage wholeheartedly in the process of influence. What’s your take on influencing? Which of these statements best reflects how you look at the process?
• Influencing is about hidden agendas and manipulation; it’s disingenuous and false
• Influencing is about kissing up
• Influencing is irrelevant; Merit is what matters
• Influencing is important, but it’s not really my job; It’s not how I want to spend my time
• Influencing is how most things get done; I work at it
If you see influencing as an inherently negative process built on flattery or deception how much of your time and energy are you likely to devote to it? Not much, right? It’s going to be difficult (understatement) to improve your organizational influence if you don’t work at it.
If, on the other hand, you believe that influencing is an important part of your job, then you are more likely to make it a priority and work at. By working at it, you stand a much better chance of improving your influencing skills.
So let’s take a closer look at some of the implicit beliefs that may lead to Dysfunctional Mindsets that can actually get in the way of your influence success.
Influencing Is About Hidden Agendas And Manipulation
Manipulation involves trying to get another person to do something they don’t want to do through underhanded or deceptive methods. Let’s take those tactics off of the table right from the start. They are simply unacceptable in today’s work organizations. While some people do engage in them, they lead to a dead-end. Long-term influence is built on a trusting relationship. Hidden agendas and deception will use up that trust faster than Donald Trump will find someone to blame. Manipulation is a high stakes gamble that almost never pays off in the long run. And then there is the ethical side of hidden agendas and manipulation. Most normal, emotionally healthy people have a moral compass that will let them know what is, and isn’t ethical. The key is to listen to that compass.
Influencing Is About Kissing Up
There’s no denying that most of us like to hear how great we are. It’s recognition of our efforts. It makes us feel good about ourselves. Making a point of recognizing another person’s contributions and ideas is actually a good thing. According to the research it doesn’t happen enough in most work organizations. It’s not kissing up if it’s true. Recognizing good ideas and accomplishments is something that you should be doing regularly with everybody that you work with. It lets them know that you noticed them. It can help them to see you as a positive person. It makes them feel more comfortable with you.
If you take it too far it can become kissing up or brown-nosing. Neither are likely to pay off in the long run. Both lack authenticity. When your recognition of their good ideas and actions crosses the line into fawning territory, you’ve gone too far. If you are only pointing out the Boss’s good ideas (and not your coworkers or direct reports), you’ve gone too far. If you are gushing giddily about irrelevant issues, you’ve gone too far.
When you take a positive too far it can become a negative, and that’s what can happen with providing recognition. It can make your feedback feel disingenuous to the person on the receiving end. Being seen as genuine and authentic (as well as actually being genuine and authentic) is a prerequisite for a positive relationship. It’s a fine line but you need to stay on the right side of it.
Influencing Is Irrelevant; Merit Is What Matters
We like to think that we operate in logical, rational organizational systems that are put together in a way that good ideas – and good performance – will automatically be recognized and rise to the top. Turns out, that’s not really the case is it? It’s not true for society (take a look at The Meritocracy Myth by McNamee and Miller) and it’s not true for our work organizations either.
We work in human systems. People aren’t machines. We have selective perception, individual needs and motives and emotions. All of those factors, and more, influence how we work with one another and how make decisions. Good ideas are great. But how many good ideas go unfulfilled because the right people haven’t heard or understood them? If you wait for your great idea or proposal to take off and fly on its own you may end up feeling disappointed. The way the idea is framed and presented matters. The quality of your relationships matter. Getting the idea to the right person matters.
Influencing Is Important, But It’s Not Really My Job; It’s Not How I Want To Spend My Time
You may have been trained as an engineer or as an accountant. Your job may involve teaching others or building cars. But you are probably already spending a significant amount of your time engaged in influencing others.
Dan Pink (To Sell Is Human 2012) commissioned a study by Qualtrics to gauge how we spend our time at work. The study involved over 9000 participants in the US. One of the findings of the study is that today, people are spending about 40% of their workday in non-sales selling – persuading, convincing and influencing others. Whether it’s your boss or a coworker, a client or a direct report, you are likely spending on average about 24 minutes of every hour you are at work engaged in the influence process. If you don’t recognize it as an important part of your job, if you don’t consciously put time and effort into doing it well, you are doing yourself and your organization a disservice.
Your Influence Mindset
Your Mindset – the way you see an issue – will have a major impact on how you act on that issue. And of course how you act will lead to the results that you attain. You have a cruise control in your car. You set that cruise control and it limits you speed to a narrow range. Your mindset is like that cruise control on steroids. It filters the information you take in and it directs your behavior.
The good news is that you have a choice about your Influence Mindset. You can allow your implicit, subconscious beliefs about influencing to limit the energy and focus that you give to that process. Or you can take a more proactive approach and choose to use a more functional Mindset that will enable you to begin to expand your sphere of influence. So what do you think? What’s your Mindset about influencing?