I last wrote about the leadership skill of influence a few years ago. Since then, the interest in influence among my executive coaching clients is growing. It makes sense. No matter your position in an organization, you cannot always depend on your title to give you the authority to make decisions and move a vision forward. Even CEOs form partnerships and collaborations and must exert influence outside their spheres of direct control. Other leaders find that they must influence sideways or up in order to move initiatives forward.
Accordingly, my search for good resources on the topic continues, and it seemed like a great time to share my latest learning. In my July 2016 blog post, I focused on the scientifically-proven principles of influence. While these are valuable insights, I have also found the framework proposed by Kim Barnes to be useful, as described in her book, Exercising Influence.
She describes two kinds of approaches to influence: expressive behaviors and receptive behaviors. Expressive influence is “sending your ideas and information toward others.” Receptive influence “invites others to contribute ideas, information, and action.” Effectively using these behaviors requires an understanding of each approach as well as determining the balance that is most appropriate for your situation. Barnes defines four aspects of each type of influence, as follows:
- Tell – make a suggestion, or express your needs. Let others know what you want and need from them.
- Sell – state the reasoning for your request, or refer to shared values or goals. Show people reasons for and benefits from them taking an action.
- Negotiate – offer incentives, or describe consequences. Offer others a fair exchange for taking or refraining from taking an action.
- Enlist – envision a desired future, or encourage the other person to join you in your endeavor. Create enthusiasm and put the other party “in the picture.”
- Inquire – ask open-ended questions, and draw out their perspective. Establish issues and questions to be explored, and deepen your own thinking.
- Listen – check your understanding of what the other person is saying, and test the implications of what he/she has said. Identify and clarify key areas of interest to both parties.
- Attune – identify with the other person, and disclose information about yourself. Create an atmosphere of trust and common ground.
- Facilitate – by clarifying issues and posing challenging questions. Create a bias toward action on the part of the other person, such as, “What would it take for you to be willing to…?”
While the author offers many other considerations for effective use of both expressive and receptive influence, three points in particular stood out to me:
- Start simple. The most basic type of expressive behavior is to let others know what we want or need them to do. This may seem obvious, but we may not be as clear on our expectations as we believe, or we may think that our needs are obvious. (“I’m buried in work. Can’t my co-workers see that?”).
- Find balance. Influence is often seen as an expressive activity only. However, effective influence requires both expressive and receptive approaches. You must be open to and respectful of other people’s inputs and perspectives, just as you hope they consider your own.
- Have a plan. Influencing a particular outcome is no different than any other initiative you want to execute successfully, which means giving it structure. What are your goals and objectives? How will you define success? What activities do you need to undertake, with whom, and by when?
Influencing others to achieve desired results may seem difficult or uncomfortable. By using specific tactics and techniques, you can learn how to develop influence to positively affect outcomes for yourself, your team, and your organization.