In my experience, relationship currency accumulates into reputation capital that enhances your influence, even where you have no authority. I’ve been thinking about situations where people need to influence peers to drive their initiatives forward. This typically occurs across functional units, where org-chart authority isn’t enough to get the job done. The setting is typically a meeting, where a good idea needs to jump from one believer to many.
So here is a checklist of behaviors that increase an individual’s influence:
- Keep it simple. Distill the complex and get to the point. Keep your supporting data and back-up information at the ready, in case you need to respond to dispute, but don’t lead with too much detail. The most persuasive ideas are beautiful in their simplicity.
- Structure your argument. Come out swinging in your first 30 seconds. Reveal your biggest idea up front; then show your work. Let people follow how you got to your conclusion. Once they buy the biggie, you can go on to Idea #2. Once they buy that, introduce Idea #3. And that’s usually enough.
- Once you have them, stop talking. As soon as you’ve influenced your colleagues, you’re done. Get off the stage. The longer you talk, the bigger your chance the other side will find something to disagree with.
- Anticipate objections. Hopefully you know something about these people; you can anticipate who will have doubts. If you’ve done your due diligence, you can imagine what objections will be raised, and prepare responses in advance.
- Be ready for give and take. You gain influence when you are willing to incorporate others’ ideas. Know what is crucial to your idea’s success, and be willing to trim what isn’t. What you bargain away doesn’t cost you anything; it earns you relationship currency. Come to the table willing to sacrifice something.
- This isn’t about keeping score. You don’t need to win 91 to 0. You gain a position of strength if you let others win too. You’re more likely to get the cooperation you want if you let others’ ideas be part of the solution. This is especially effective if they have been critical of you.
- Don’t take it personally. When you meet resistance is the best time to demonstrate flexibility. If you care a lot about the idea or initiative, it’s very natural to over-react. If someone raises an objection, pause. Take a breath. Look for how to foster communication that leads to collaboration, instead of jumping into push and push-back. Saying something like, “Help me understand more” will lead you toward common ground.
- Don’t give away the store. Be willing to accept some criticism; be open to course correction; but don’t feel you have to accept a 180 degree turn. Don’t give away so much you compromise the core you’re fighting for.
- Never lose sight of the greater good. If the relationship is worth investing in, don’t lose sight of the higher road. These people are your colleagues; you’re in this for the long haul. The more important your initiative, the more critical it will be to demonstrate your ability to see the bigger picture. Don’t hold grudges. Spend that energy moving forward, not backward.
How many of these behaviors do you perform consistently today? Which could you improve on, if you made that a personal goal?
I submit that a crucial factor in success is mastery of these nine behaviors that increase influence among peers. Authority can only drive a nail—it can’t push a rope. And in today’s complex professional sphere, more and more initiatives take pushing the rope. That’s why we all need to improve our ability to advance through influence, rather than authority.
- Individuals who understand influence are more likely to advance professionally.
- You can master specific behaviors to increase your influence in situations where you have no overt authority.
- In a world of increasingly complex cross-functional initiatives, improving the essential relationships skill of using influence, not authority, is a wise investment of your time.