Political Intelligence

by Don Morley and David Bancroft-Turner

Influencing – the second key skill

When influencing others, the wise owl is always intent on achieving a win/win outcome, thus retaining goodwill and positive relationships for the future. This does not happen by chance. Effective influence often takes time and nearly always requires careful planning.

Be clear about your goal

Before addressing a particular influencing activity or task, secure complete clarity on a number of points:

  • What is the situation?
  • What am I seeking to achieve?
  • What will the outcomes be?
  • Who is involved?
  • Who will the activity/outcome affect?
  • Whose support do I need?
  • What is the task and how will I go about it?
  • When do I need to start and is there a sequence to be followed?
  • What resources do I have?
  • What more do I need?
  • Who might contribute some of theirs?
  • Who needs to be advised?
  • What method will be used?
  • When and where should I start?
  • Where are the risks?
  • Who could jeopardise the outcome?
  • What could get in the way of success?

Helpful beliefs

Like a top athlete, you need to believe that you can win or you will sabotage your chances of success. But this belief must be underpinned by meticulous preparation – including going through the checklist given above – by self awareness, and by taking other people’s views into account.

We are all different

Are you an optimist or a pessimist? Either will be correct on occasion. The pessimist tends to rigorously analyse the available information. Many flawed projects have been halted at birth thanks to this scrutiny. However, the creative optimist will point to innovations that never achieved their potential due to a level of scrutiny that closed down rather than opened up the opportunities.

The truly astute person knows when the time is right to consider the data and when it is more appropriate to think laterally. To be able to do both is obviously an asset when trying to influence others and exercise political intelligence.

Consider the options

If you have also thought through other ways of accomplishing the objective, this will also demonstrate a ‘can do’ attitude.

Looking from different angles

Some of us are predominantly forward looking (‘because you can’t change the past’). Others favour being entirely clear as to where we are now, often referencing the past to substantiate this essential starting point. If you have given prior thought to both viewpoints, you will be able to counter objections from both directions.

Enemy or ally

Just because someone disagrees, you shouldn’t think of them as an enemy. More often than not they are on the same side – same organisation, even the same department – and it can make a big difference in maintaining your positive mindset if you can think of them as allies.

If you really don’t like the other person, separate them from the issue. Focusing on the issue helps you to think rationally and to express yourself more positively. Let the facts speak for themselves and avoid the emotional and political distractions. Avoid wrangles by stressing that your sole concern is to get the issue resolved for the good of the organisation.

The right approach

You need to match your approach to the person you are seeking to influence. The following four-quadrant model uses extroversion and introversion as the horizontal axis and the fact that we focus primarily either on task or on people as the vertical axis.

Personal Style Indicator (PSI)

The four styles

People who fall into the ‘behavioural’ quadrant combine extroverted behaviour with a task-orientated approach. They focus on objectives and results and are high on energy, action and urgency, as you should be when speaking with them. Draw attention to the benefits to them and explain that they will be kept up to date with progress.

Those in the ‘affective’ quadrant are also extroverted, but more people orientated. Ask their opinion. Use them as a sounding board and explore future options. Avoid wanting to move too fast, relying on past data or having a highly structured proposal.

The ‘interpersonal’ quadrant describes introverts who are caring, reliable, sensitive and supportive. Show that you have addressed the personal implications, for them and others, of the proposal. Don’t be pushy or move too fast.

Finally, the ‘cognitive’ quadrant occupants are also introverted, but seek clarity, precision, and perfection. Allow them time to think things through. Make sure you have all the facts.

Be alert to other’s situations

Unless you take the other party’s situation into account, there is no hope of a meeting of minds. A significant part of the art of influence is the effort that you put into understanding, and then removing, the reasons why they should any longer resist.

Put yourself in their shoes

Be sensitive to the fact that life in organisations rarely runs consistently smoothly. If you approach someone on a bad day, their response to your seemingly compelling argument may not be quite what you hoped for. Of course, there may be personal reasons why now would not be a good time to commence an influencing activity. Be alert for signs that enable you to recognise the other person’s situation and make whatever adjustments are needed. A word of sympathy or an offer of help demonstrates your understanding and stands you in good stead when you return to the influencing activity. Your gesture today will most often trigger a gesture from them at some future date.

Play to your strengths

All too often we neglect to remember our strengths, yet these are strong bargaining chips that could win over the other person and achieve the desired outcome.

Your assets might include some of the following:

  • A departmental budget
  • A team of capable staff with specialist knowledge
  • Personal knowledge or expertise
  • A reputation for making things happen
  • A large network of people who matter
  • A reputation for speed of response
  • Control of systems or technologies
  • A reputation for proactivity
  • A dynamic personality
  • A reputation for building highly effective teams
  • Highly relevant, or lengthy, experience

and more...

Make it happen

Above all, look for a win/win outcome. This is not a compromise, which leaves neither party totally happy. Indeed, a compromise may create tensions that prove long-lasting and undermine future cooperation.

There will invariably be a win/win outcome that can be accomplished. This will only be achieved, however, if the relationship, the trust, the understanding of each other’s position, the positive mindset and the flexibility to consider all the options are brought together successfully.

More clues to effective influencing

  • Before attending meetings, find out who will be there. Ascertain what was on their mind last time; ask for an update and show interest in their challenges. Follow up a few days later to find out what is happening. You could mention something specific they said and, if appropriate, offer to help.
  • Become a mentor to a younger high flyer – if they get to the top, they will remember you. If they don’t, you have gained access to wider thinking and different viewpoints.
  • Learn how to influence through suggestion rather than by telling/controlling/manipulating.
  • Know the difference between passive, assertive and aggressive behaviour.
  • Find out your boss’ personal style. Adapt your own style to more closely match his or hers.
  • If you present a problem, always try to put forward a possible solution at the same time.
  • Find out who could be potential allies in the organisation. Create a reason to have a discussion with them – perhaps a new idea, an insight, something coming up or maybe a development within the industry.
  • Follow through and do what you say you will do; people will learn to trust you.
  • Identify the political animals at large in your organisation; be clear who you are dealing with.
  • Before meeting people, ensure your mindset is ‘neutral’ rather than already biased to positive or negative.
  • Information from outside the organisation could support your arguments. Look out for relevant articles and research findings. Perhaps you might organise benchmarking partners. The views of an outsider, maybe with a different slant on similar experiences, may well carry more credibility.
  • Develop your positive reputation.
  • Have a positive attitude. Is it a problem or an opportunity?
  • Pay attention to your work ethic. Be known for giving, not taking from the organisation. Work out what this might mean for you.
  • Be proactive and use your initiative.
  • Become more of a team player. Be supportive and help others.
  • Be accountable. Foxes blame others and state it’s not their fault. Turn this to your advantage – take the blame for the team even if it was their fault. They will remember this for a long time.
  • Be seen as an owl, not a selfish, greedy fox:
  • Job satisfaction – generate a productive and positive environment.
  • Shared goals – work and collaborate with others to achieve goals rather than operating largely in isolation.
  • Vision – remind people of the bigger picture and link this to the task in hand.
  • Support others – help them to grow and realise their potential.
  • Relationships – work to develop long-lasting professional relationships for mutual benefit.

For more information, see the topic on Influencing.