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Everyday Influence: Tips for Making a Difference in Your Everyday Interactions

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Influence is a 24-7-365 occupation. Whether at home, work or school, we are all attempting to influence others as well as being the objects of others’ attempted influence.

We are asked for our support, our opinion, our cooperation, our input, our attention, our compliance. And we try to get others to support our projects, give us their input, cooperate with us, attend to our priorities.

The reality, however, is that influence is a challenge. And often we “err on the side of caution” or lower our expectations about the likely outcome of our influencing attempts.

“People tend to be better copers than influencers,” write the authors of Influencer: The power to change anything (McGraw-Hill 2008). “The fact that many of us don’t realise that it’s our duty to become good at exerting influence causes us a great deal of grief. Instead of owning up to our responsibility of becoming effective agents of change and then going about the task of improving our influence repertoire (much like an athlete running laps or a chess player learning moves), we grumble, threaten, ridicule, and, more often than not, find ways to cope.”

Now, you and I aren’t like that, of course, but we probably know people who are … So, how can we move from simply “coping” to more effective influence?

“The breakthrough discovery of most influence geniuses is that enormous influence comes from focusing on just a few vital behaviours,” write the authors of Influencer. “They start by asking: In order to improve our existing situation, what must people actually do?”

This is an apparently obvious point, but one that is commonly neglected. We want something done, we want something changed, we want something stopped. And of course the primary tool we have to use is communication - words. So we talk. We explain, we reason, we argue, we (try to) persuade. And sometimes we get the change, improvement, task or problem fixed.

Sometimes, of course, nothing really changes. Or the response is confused, uncertain, or only partial. And sometimes our exhortations are ignored.

Just because there is a good reason for something, just because it makes sense, just because we see the value in it doesn’t mean action will follow. It doesn’t mean people know what action to take - or what course of action is the best.

Perhaps what is missing in such instances is a clear focus on the behaviour we want changed or adopted.

Sometimes, particularly for those who are “wired” to reason and explain, the information flow can confuse or obscure the actions required. The assumption is that if we’ve explained the situation or the rationale, people will intuitively know what to do.

But it’s not always that clear. “So what do you want me to do?” we’ve all sometimes find ourselves wondering after a lengthy explanation of some situation. The reason we ask is because there’s no clarity about what, if any, behaviours or actions are required. And the absence of clarity around this leads to hesitation, assumptions, guesswork or inaction.

We know from communication research that there’s a “pyramid” of responsiveness to information. At the base level we are aware that we’ve been communicated with. At the next level we pay attention to the message. Higher up the pyramid we may acknowledge the message, we may take an attitude toward it, we may even agree with it … but still we haven’t taken any action! Of course, the assumption we often work from when we communicate is that our information will “naturally” lead to action.

So before attempting to influence someone the following clear steps are helpful…

1. Clarify for yourself what the task is - what specifically needs to be done in order to comply with your request, desire, preference or requirement? What should the new/changed/improved situation look like? What specifically will those involved need to do to effect the change? 2. Remind yourself that not everyone is as ready (able, willing, confident) as you may be to carry out the required behaviours. Do your readiness diagnosis to determine how much you need to prescribe the behaviours and how much you can negotiate or delegate. 3. Having clarified the realities of task and readiness, you can now go about your influencing task using the appropriate influencing behaviours: using the most effective mix of directive and/or supportive behaviours to direct, explain, encourage or enable the change you are seeking. And be sure to keep the focus on behaviours: what needs to be done. Just imparting knowledge or information does not mean you’re going to get behaviours that lead to action.

Focusing on required behaviours is a key to effective influence and an important means of improving performance. As W. Edwards Deming said: “It is not enough to do your best; you must know what to do and then do your best.”

Reference: Patterson, K., Grenny, J., Maxfield, D., McMillan, R.(2008) Influencer: The power to change anything. McGraw-Hill. NY:NY

Aubrey Warren is a Situational Leadership® Master Trainer, accredited coach and experienced workshop facilitator.