Essentials of Effective Influence

Article excerpt

Essentials of Effective Influence

What do the following situations have in common? * A husband and wife are trying to decide what movie to go to that evening. The husband wants to see a lighthearted comedy, and the wife wants to see a newly released science-fiction thriller. * A doctor and her patient are discussing the patient's health prospects. The doctor wants the patient to give up smoking and lose 20 pounds. * An organization development practitioner is meeting with the director of manufacturing. The OD specialist wants the director to review the company's appraisal system; he feels the present system doesn't support the goals of the development effort they are undertaking together. * A trainer is standing in front of a group of managers in the staff lounge. She wants the managers' support for a new communications seminar.

In each situation, at least one influence attempt is taking place. In fact, most human interactions involve influencing someone to accept a changed situation, adopt a new practice, make a certain choice, or alter some aspect of his or her behavior. In the workplace, many people have to interact with people from other departments or units, in situations in which there are no clear authority relationships.

In fact, in staff positions such as those in HRD and training, as much as 75 percent of a practitioner's communications may be with people who are not in the same work unit. In such cases, of course, trainers have little formal authority and must rely on their interpersonal skills to be successful in establishing and carrying out their work.

Known but not used

People with HRD experience generally know what they should do to be effective in situations requiring influence, but may not put that knowledge into action. They have "learned" that they should employ active listening, set clear and mutual goals, establish clear agendas, and so on. But they usually don't incorporate such principles into their everyday lives.

Almost everyone who's been through a basic interpersonal-skills workshop of any kind will profess to understand the principles of active listening (for example, paraphrasing, asking open-ended questions, and summarizing). But how often do you feel actively listened to?

Much has been written about effective negotiations and influence techniques, but people still don't seem to use them much. Instead, we assume that if we just "try harder" with the techniques that aren't working, we will eventually break through the resistance and be successful in our influence attempts.

People's styles of operating and manners of processing information are often founded on inertia. The more often a thought or behavior is repeated, the more difficult it is to replace it with a new thought or behavior without a lot of conscious discipline. One of the fundamental criteria by which any training program should be evaluated is the extent to which it helps participants overcome that inertia--how well it helps them reprogram their "automatic pilots."

The essentials

Since 1980, I have been involved with the NTL Institute's Influencing Effectively training program. In the program, we differentiate between "manipulation" and "influence." Manipulation is covert, has hidden agendas, and is win-lose focused; influence is conducted openly, is mutual, and is win-win focused. The models introduced and the skills practiced in the program all support a high-integrity influence process that leads to outcomes both parties can feel fully committed to.

At the end of each program, we ask small groups to prepare reports from their personal experience, on what they now consider to be the essentials of effective positive influence. In reviewing the reports produced over the years, I found that the essentials of effective influence can be nicely sorted into six categories: mindset, preparation, awareness, skills, stage management, and models. …