Being able to influence others is a critical skill in any business environment. Managers leading a team, colleagues looking for buy-in on a project, and employees angling for a promotion – each of these situations involve one person trying to persuade others to support a recommendation. We may talk big about the “right way” to influence others, but when the time actually arrives even the best of us can make a classic beginner's mistake. We may stick to expressing our own point of view and major concerns, and give little thought to what the other person is thinking or feeling.
The result is unfortunately predictable - instead of moving towards acceptance, we encounter resistance.
A key piece of the puzzle is empathy. Empathy allows us to put ourselves in others’ shoes. Empathy makes it possible to understand decision-making processes and motivations that are very different from our own. It uncovers key information that increases our chances of success.
No matter how experienced we are, it always helps to re-evaluate how to apply empathy in a conversation. A simple way to approach it is to think about the Three Guiding Values: the past experiences of the other person, what is imposed on them today, and their relationship with you.
A person’s past experiences will influence their perception of the future.
For example, imagine you need to influence colleagues to accept the company's new change management process. If the last such initiative they worked on was unsuccessful, it is fair to assume they will view your proposal with scepticism. This does not mean you are doomed to failure, but it does mean you will have to position your message in a way that takes account of what happened before.
Even if you have worked with someone for a long time you will only know a part of their story. You should take the time to get to know the person the best you can, and when the time comes to present your proposal, be sensitive to what you may not know. Ask questions and encourage them to share their experiences with similar initiatives, and then adjust your message depending on their response.
Next, you have to consider what is imposed on the other person today. If you are trying to enlist support on a two-month project with numerous meetings, conference calls and trips abroad, you need to know what other major commitments the person already has. Perhaps a year-end report will take priority or an annual vacation has already been booked.
Sometimes people say no for reasons we are not aware of, and often these may relate to strict management directives which in turn are tied to key performance indicators, budget restraints or staffing limitations, etc. You may not be able to control these factors, but you need to at least be aware of them.
Their Relationship with You
This value is more dependent on you, because it involves the strength of your personal relationship. The better that is, the easier it is to get someone to accept and support your ideas.
People are more likely to consider any request favourably if they know you well and respect your ability. In contrast, no one thinks twice about turning down someone they neither know nor care about. Therefore, if you want to succeed you need to build a level of rapport and trust first.
Understanding a person’s Three Guiding Values will give you a solid foundation on which to build your message. People do not always tell their co-workers about their various experiences, values, needs and drivers. It is your job to uncover as much as you can by asking questions and actively listening. The process takes and a genuine trusting relationship with the other person.