Influencing

by Don Morley

Be in the right frame of mind

Any sportsperson will tell you how essential it is to go into a match, event or fight believing you can win. But it is too easy to point to the focus a top athlete brings to the start of a race – the visualising of that winning moment. Successful athletes haven’t just pressed the button marked ‘think positive’ in their head. They are positive for a host of reasons, including meticulous preparation. And there are other factors that influence our thoughts.

We are all different

For a start, some people are born optimists, while others have a pessimistic tendency. The former runs out of petrol, having assumed the gauge always understates the amount of fuel left, while the latter almost never enters the garage with less than a half full tank!

Does it matter as far as influence is concerned?

Well it does if you are an optimist and always make the assumption that sooner or later people will come round to your way of thinking; you could be a long time waiting. Alternatively, your pessimism might well inhibit your efforts to seek a solution.

It is important, therefore, to give yourself a reality check. Think carefully about issues that have arisen in the past year and remember what people said. For example, if their reaction to your initial position was, ‘You always look through rose-tinted spectacles’ it could be a reflection of your natural optimism. If you said, ‘It will never work’ and they responded, ‘You old cynic’, it could be you have a history of only seeing the downside.

When a strength can also be a weakness

People who say, ‘It will never work’ may merely be playing to their strength. The strength could be an inclination to rigorously analyse the information and, in this instance, draw the conclusion that the proposal is unsound. This capacity for detail may well mark them out as being ‘left-brained’. Many flawed projects have been halted at birth thanks to this level of scrutiny.

However, those with a ‘right brain’ orientation will point to many innovations that never achieved their potential because a welter of analysis closed down rather than opened up the opportunities. They thrive on being able to come up with fresh options – ways of overcoming the very obstacles that the left brained are proud to have spotted.

The skill lies in knowing when and with whom to consider the data and when it is more appropriate to think laterally. To be able to do both is obviously an asset and you need to be alert to striking the right balance between the two. If you can identify the type of person you are interacting with, you will not only be more able to empathise with their view but also more likely to win them over by marshalling your arguments in a way they will find acceptable.

Positive = confident

It is easier to have a positive frame of mind when you are confident that you are well prepared. Considering and acting on the ‘preparation’ checklist will go a long way to providing that peace of mind. If you have also thought through alternative ways of accomplishing the objective, this will help to demonstrate a ‘can do’ attitude on your behalf.

As each one of these factors is ticked off, so the confidence grows. Another way in which people differ is that some of us are predominantly forward looking. However, 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 sufficient thought to both the past and the future, you will be confident that you can counter objections from either direction.

Enemy or ally

If you face resistance from the other party, they may seem like an enemy. But the truth is that more often than not they are on the same side – same organisation, same department even. It can make a big difference in maintaining your positive mindset if you can think of the other person as an ally.

If you are selling to a third party, remember that they need to purchase just as much as you need to supply. The mutual aim is to complete the transaction. Perceiving them as a partner or ally in this makes it more likely that you will come across positively, creating the kind of fruitful discussion that leads to agreement.

Positive in mind... and in body!

Even if all the above factors have been taken into account, it is still necessary to ensure your whole persona is positive and confident. If the mindset is really positive, then the body language will likely follow, and vice versa.

The upbeat tone of voice, the relaxed open stance, the appropriate eye contact – all combine with well chosen words to put over a convincing message. If you come across as uneasy about your proposal, you will create doubts and they may even begin to mistrust you.

Separate the person from the issue

When tackling an influencing activity, it can be difficult to maintain a positive outlook when you don’t actually like the other person. But it would be surprising if we did like every single colleague or customer.

To overcome this challenge, separate the person from the issue. Focusing on the issue helps you to think rationally and express yourself more positively than would otherwise be the case. Let the facts speak for themselves; avoid emotional distractions. If the other party wants to get into that type of debate, point out your sole concern is to get the issue resolved for the good of the organisation.

The workplace is challenging enough in this day and age. Influencing others, particularly if they have a different thinking style, is not easy. A positive mindset is an important step on the way to giving yourself the best opportunity of succeeding.