A key skill relevant to leaders at all levels is the ability to positively influence people in such a way that others follow you and act willingly —as opposed to complying because of the “authority” you hold from the organisation.
Other corporate roles, such as in finance, in marketing in HR in communications, are built primarily around the ability to influence others without direct responsibility.
Although I was not adept at influencing skills, I came to realise that influence without authority is an essential life skill and is constantly at play in the workplace. Let’s look at some of the most important things you can do to build on this core skill set to your business leading advantage.
Understand resistance to change
Everyone has a different tolerance for change. The first emotion that comes to mind when people are faced with change is the fear of loss as they have an allegiance with the current work situation and approaches. They have successfully built their work relationships in the current environment and there is both a fear of loss of this current set up and a fear of what the future could offer. And while the fear of change can be very prominent in people’s minds, the positive call of the future is not strong, there is little hope that the new situation can be any better than the current situation.
That said, when people resist ideas, the reason is typically made apparent by asking the following three questions:
- Is the problem that you are trying to solve clear to the other party—along with the full implications of inaction?
- Have you been clear about what you want and the specific benefits of doing things the way you are suggesting?
- How much sacrifice or risk taking are you expecting from the other party and what can you do to minimize it or alleviate their concerns?
When attempting to influence, consider what you might do in each of these three areas.
Also, resistance to change is often not a negative emotion around change, around the fear of losing what people currently have, but is more to do with inertia or apathy. There is neither positive motivation to change nor a strong negative emotion resisting change, just a feeling of why me, why now and why this? This apathy focuses on the high costs of switching- both in terms of personal costs but also organisation costs. There is an inherent fear of failure in attempting anything new. A typical feeling is that delaying things is ok as there is not such a positive reason to make change work. The default setting for many people is to do nothing, neither positive nor negative, but to keep working in the same way that appears to have worked for a lengthy time. This approach is a typical response amongst people- there are a series of behavioural biases that works against change that have been hardwired into us… check the top 20 out here.
In such circumstances Persist
Persuasion is not a one-shot effort. Be prepared to pitch the same idea on multiple occasions using a variety of means, settings, media and with multiple improvements based on what you hear each time. When you attempt to change an organisation, you need to change it one person at a time. Find ways in which you can engage with people individually to enable an assessment of their attitudes to change. Try and identify the informal social networks around the organisation to influence groups. There are many levers to change, and you will need to utilize them all as you move individuals to appreciate the real reasons for the urgent need for change.
You may not think of yourself as a salesperson. However, if your role is to influence others in a significant way you need to employ many of the same sales bases skills. It is not complicated, but takes mindfulness and careful thought, particularly when under stress and pressure. This approach can greatly increase the odds of getting your good ideas adopted.