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Real Influence

In their book Real Influence, Mark Goulston and John Ullman, really emphasise the need to avoid hard tactics, they offer tips for using soft tactics and gaining commitment.

To gain commitment, you have to listen

The core of their argument is really quite simple and that is to gain commitment you have to listen. You have to listen so you can learn and adjust your influence efforts to what your target is thinking and feeling. The authors interviewed over 100 high-level influencers as they call them and found that listening and adjusting are key.

Let me walk you through an example. Suppose you are asked to lead an existing team of salespeople to get them excited about a new product that they’ll have to sell. The team is already in place and you are the outsider bringing in the change, the discomfort, the new product.

Everything you’ve heard in advance suggests that this is going to be a tough job. This team has a reputation for loving each other and hating outsiders like you. What can you do to convince them to come together, get on board and really push for this project? Well, you should begin with listening and learning.

Listening can actually be tougher than it first appears because you will bring many assumptions and biases to the situation. We all have a natural tendency to engage in selective listening to support what we already believe, so in your first few days on the team are likely to simply come to the conclusion that everything you heard was right and this team hate you.

To be influential, understand different perspectives

But, if you reach out and connect with members of the team individually, really trying to understand who they are what they’re concerned about what they are thinking then you will learn a great deal about the team. You might learn that hating outsiders as reputation really comes from history that they have: a string of three nasty supervisors that span through over the years.

You might learn the team members really like and respect each other because they have a long history together. In short, they trust each other and they worry that an outsider,  someone like you will ruin it. And, this is why Goulston and Ullman suggest that to be influential you have to understand your team members perspectives and begin theirs.

So, that means beginning with an understanding of how they see the situation. In this case how they see you their new supervisor how they see the product and the other changes going on within the company. Any effort to understand must continue with you taking their perspective about the best way forward.

Only when you see things from their point of view can you begin to see you might move them from their way of thinking to an alternative way of thinking. In a case of the team were new products they may see a way forward already that’s that they already work well together. They don’t need much at all from you is a supervisor.

It’s about support not about teaching

In other words what this team wants from you is support and protection from outside influence, not meddling in their day-to-day business. If this is how the situation plays out then your job may be a whole easier than you thought. It’s about support rather than about trying to teach them or push them to do something new.

I find Goulston and Ullman book quite compelling because it doesn’t really offer a simple formula for influence. It does not tell you that you should use rational persuasion here or inspiration here, it tells you that you have to learn as much as you can about the people involved and understand how they see the world and the situation.

With this information you’ll will be able to understand how to set up messages, how to be persuasive, how to be inspirational in ways that are tailored directly to the target and context at hand.