Our ability to influence others is an essential skill for leaders at any level. Influencing is not about strong arming people to do things your way, but rather influencing is “the action or process of producing effects on the actions, behavior, opinions and ideas of others.” (definition from dictionary.com.)
Today’s flatter organizations that rely on teams rather than individuals requires influencing skills. Hierarchical organizations where one leader may make all the decisions are far and few between. Collaboration is essential and collaboration requires influencing skills.
Samantha just can’t seem to influence others to see her point of view. She has been trying to convince her peers, other directors in the organization, to accept her proposed solution to a particular technology. They just don’t seem to pay any attention to Samantha during the director’s meetings. She has even tried talking to a few of her peers one-on-one but to no avail. In part Samantha was frustrated because she knew she had the answer to the problem. She had more experience in the organization than the other directors. She was also older than them and had more work experience overall; that should count for something. This was hardly the first instance, Samantha’s peers never seemed to accept her ideas.
During a one-on-one meeting with Allan, one of her peers and also a close friend, he mentioned to Samantha that it wasn’t that she didn’t have good ideas. Rather, she never bothered to listen to others’ thoughts. The other directors felt that Samantha just wanted to do things her way and not really collaborate with the group. When others even tried to build upon her idea, she dug her heels in and insisted her idea was “good as it is.” Allan was surprised, he told Samantha, that she didn’t notice her colleagues were beginning to tune her out.
Samantha was shocked by Allan’s statement. She felt like she always listened to the ideas of others. She just felt that sometimes everyone moved way too slow and ideas were discussed round and round for weeks on end. She just wanted to make it a better place to work!
Because of the perception that Samantha does not listen to others and wants things her way, her relationship with her peers is likely strained. She will never be able to influence them, and, in fact, they may actively move against anything she wants to accomplish because she does not have credibility with them. Samantha’s effectiveness collaborating with her peers will be severely impacted, which will impact her ability to be success in the organization and in leading her own group. It will be difficult for Samantha to be seen as a leader if she cannot learn how to influence those around her to accomplish goals.
The Warning Signs Have Been There
Certainly the warning signs have been there for Samantha.
- Peers “tune her out” when she is talking during director’s meetings. They have side conversations or utilize their mobile devices to check email.
- When she has actively asked for thoughts, peers have told her “whatever you want” in reply.
- Peers have cut her off in the middle of talking.
- Even in cases when Samantha has had the best idea to solve the problem, her peers don’t seem interested in going along with her.
Samantha cannot just ignore this problem. It will not simply resolve on its own. She needs to take action to better collaborate with her peers to solve problems and realize opportunities. Otherwise, she will find herself cut off from them and, effectively, on her own island. This will damage her reputation within the organization and make it very difficult, if not impossible, to accomplish goals.
Steps for Samantha to Take
Samantha needs to take the time to build relationships with her colleagues. This will enable her to understand the people she is working with and learn more about them and the best way to communicate with them. Certainly she needs to improve on her active listening skills and really listen to what she is hearing from her colleagues.
Samantha needs to realize that the diversity in her colleagues is exactly what is needed to find the best solution to problems and realize opportunities. While Samantha may have significant experience and have some great ideas, undoubtedly others can bring to the conversation perspectives and experiences she does not have. They can also build upon her ideas to develop even stronger solutions to a particular problem being solved.
Successfully influencing others requires Samantha to first build strong working relationships with them. She needs to get to know them and appreciate their diversity and their experiences. Once she has done this, she’ll better be able to communicate her perspective and influence them to see her point of view. Of course this doesn’t mean that Samantha’s ideas or her way of solving a problem will always be the best way. Rather, by combining the ideas from others, the end solution is likely to be much stronger.
As a very first step, Samantha should reach out to each of her peers one-on-one to apologize for always trying to push through her ideas. She might do this through inviting peers to lunch or to have coffee or to go out after work. The goal is to begin to develop relationships with her peers and to understand more about them and what they bring to the organization.
At the next meeting, rather than throwing her idea out, Samantha should wait to hear about the ideas of others and build upon those ideas.
The ability to influence others is absolutely essential for anyone in the organization and especially for those in leadership roles. This key skill can be learned but it takes practice and patience (building relationships with others is required) and means relying on the expertise and experiences of others to build better solutions to problems.