by Don Morley

Tune into their needs

We have all been exercising influence from a very early age. Crying and throwing tantrums were our initial strategies to gain attention, and preferably something more.

As we grew a little older, we got smarter. If we had siblings, we became quite adept at manipulating our parents’ responses to ensure we were more likely to be the beneficiary. Not that you would ever encounter colleagues going behind your back to the manager now that you are in an adult world! For some, seemingly, old habits die hard.

In our professional role, we hone our skills of preparation and presentation to ensure that our case is as convincing as we can make it. Regrettably, all too often we are so focussed on our own viewpoint, and the ‘rightness’ of our own position, that we largely overlook the situation or views of those we need to influence.

Put yourself in their shoes

In any organisations, individuals will have good days and bad days. Obviously, if you approach someone on a bad day, their response to your seemingly compelling argument may not be quite what you hoped for.

Below are just a few examples of the things that may be going on for the person you wish to influence.

  • Budget cuts have just been demanded and his priorities will have to be reviewed urgently.
  • A key member of her staff has recently resigned.
  • There is a rumour that his department is going to be merged with another.
  • Her department is three short and the recruitment agency has delayed the shortlist.
  • His manager has made crystal clear what the objectives are and your proposal falls outside.
  • Her team are tied up with the year end accounts.
  • He has just had an annual appraisal and it did not go well.
  • Someone has ‘let her know’ that you think too many women have been over-promoted.
  • He is aware that you have a reputation for taking all the credit from successful projects.
  • She knows that her manager is no longer on speaking terms with you.

It is not all that difficult to find out if there is a potential barrier before you approach the other party. A call to the Sales Director’s secretary may forewarn you about his frame of mind. Have the month’s sales dipped or is there cause for concern that the recent in-store promotion has flopped? His secretary will know. One reason for having a good network is so you can tap into it when you need such insights.

Ringing the supermarket buyer to see if she can assist with an invoice her company has not yet paid would be counter-productive in the very week her organisation has been on the end of a takeover bid. It’s worth taking time to be sensitive to such issues and ensure you keep well informed.

The goal is to set yourself up for success. Get off on the wrong foot and it may take you a long time to recover the situation; you might even have blown it for ever.

Life beyond the organisation

The reasons why now may not be a good time to commence an influencing activity may have nothing to do with the workplace. Common sense makes it unnecessary to list potential issues. Clearly, someone who has been at a funeral the previous day will be perturbed if you say the project is a dead duck and the sooner it is killed off the better!

Again, the rule is to be alert for signs that enable you to tune in to the other person’s situation. A word of sympathy, an offer of help if needed, demonstrates understanding and will stand you in good stead when you return to the influencing activity. The law of reciprocity works here. Your gesture today will most often trigger a gesture from them at some future point in time. Handy, if you need their support for that new proposal you are about to table.

What else needs to be considered?

Thus far we have been considering how to avoid creating friction or touching on the other person’s sensitivities. There is one area, however, where extreme caution needs to be exercised and this is organisational politics.

This topic of Political Intelligence is covered elsewhere; for now, let’s just say not everyone plays by the same rules. The reason for the resistance you might encounter may run a lot deeper than first thought.