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Adapted from CAN WE TALK? Seven Principles for Managing Difficult Conversations at Work (Kogan Page, September 28, 2021) by Roberta Chinsky Matuson, a renowned thought leader and consultant who helps leaders achieve improved employee engagement, retention, productivity and profitability. Learn more at www.matusonconsulting.com.
You probably know people who seem to have been born with what I call the influencing gene. They appear to have a natural ability to convince people to go along with whatever they suggest. As of this writing, there is no scientific evidence that the ability to influence is actually part of our DNA. Luckily for most of us, influencing is a skill that we can learn.
I define influence as asking for something you need in a way that allows the other person to say yes to whatever you’ve presented, which is exactly what want we want someone to do when we’re in the middle of a challenging conversation. Throughout this book, I’ve been discussing the connection between healthy relationships and productive discussions. If you have a trusting relationship with someone, it will be that much easier to convince them to do what you’d like them to do. Without that relationship, the other person may view you as being manipulative. For example, let’s say you’re speaking to a manager, and you want to move her to another position. You’re unsure how she’ll react to this news. If you have a stable relationship with this person, she’ll most likely believe you have her best interests in mind. If you don’t, she may think you have an ulterior motive, such as wanting to move her out so you can give this position to someone she thinks you favor.
Here are some techniques to help you become better at influencing.
Make Daily Deposits into Your Bank of Trust Account
Earlier in this book, I introduced the bank of trust model. Since the chances of influencing someone who doesn’t trust you during a heated conversation are about the same as experiencing snow in Hawaii, you can see why this bears repeating. Do something every day to build trust. This could be as simple as doing what you say you’ll do.
Check Your Relationship Status
Every relationship has its ups and downs. The condition your relationship is in on the day you’re attempting to bring someone to your side of the conversation is what matters most. Let’s say you and your colleague had a difference of opinion earlier this week. You’re not especially proud of how you handled yourself, as you said some things you immediately regretted. I wouldn’t advise you to seek a compromise on another matter until you’ve repaired the relationship.
Make Sure Your Request Is Specific
Have you ever had someone try to influence you to do something, only you weren’t quite sure what they were asking? You may have felt like they were trying to confuse you intentionally. You may have even walked away, feeling manipulated. When using influence, it’s always best to tell the person precisely what you’d like them to do. This sets the stage for an honest conversation and allows you the option of modifying your request based on this person’s reaction. Here’s an example of a specific influencing request, which I use when training leaders to be more influential. Suppose you’re in a heated discussion with an employee. Rather than saying, “I need you to pull your weight around here,” instead, say, “I need you to perform better in your job. By that, I mean, create the project strategy, assign tasks to the team, and follow-up with your coworkers weekly.” The second statement clearly explains your expectations and moves the conversation forward in a productive way.Learning how to move people to your way of thinking takes practice and requires the willingness to give up a small slice of what you may want right now to get to a place where both parties feel satisfied with what they’ve received.Click To Tweet
Think W.I.F.M. (What’s in It for Me)
Earlier, I talked about the need to put yourself in someone else’s place. Master influencers do this all the time. They ask themselves why someone would consider their request—W.I.F.M.—then make that reason part of that request. Building upon the example I presented for making your request specific, the conversation would go like this: “I need you to perform better in your job. By that, I mean, create the project strategy, assign tasks to the team, and follow-up with your coworkers weekly. By doing so, you’ll be freed up to work with me on the selection of the new computer software you’ve been advocating for.”
Let’s put this together. You’d like an employee to shift over to a new account. However, you’re concerned he may not want to give up his most lucrative account. You have high levels of trust and a strong relationship with this person. You’re in an excellent position to make an influencing request. Let’s give it a go: “Sam, we’ve worked with one another for quite some time, and I’ve always encouraged you to learn different sides of the business. I’d like you to consider making a lateral move to a new account. By that I mean, you’ll use the skills you’ve mastered on this account and become the lead person on the new account. This way you’ll have the full-cycle agency experience, which in turn will best position you to head up the department.”
Suppose you skipped any of the steps outlined above and simply told Sam you were taking away his most lucrative account (which you have the right to do because you’re the boss) without further explanation. In that case, the conversation could have gotten argumentative. Sam would have told you all the reasons why this was a terrible idea, and you most likely would have pushed back until you reached a point where you might have said, “I’m in charge here, and that’s my decision.” There would have been no room for compromise, and Sam may have decided, right then and there, to look for a new job.
The key to successful dialogue starts and ends with changing the conversation. Recognizing that it takes two people to engage in meaningful outcomes, Can We Talk? outlines what each contributor needs to do to achieve the best possible result.