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Becoming an INFLUENCER

4 Sep, 2009 McKell Naegle

Our HR Dept. helped many of us become familiar with principles of effective interactions with others when they trained on the books CRUCIAL CONVERSATIONS and CRUCIAL CONFRONTATIONS.

Well, Vital Smarts (the company behind the other two books) came out with another book—INFLUENCER.

Some great principles are shared in this book. The authors share some below:

1. Influence with action.
The greatest influence in the world is the influence of norms. When people see visual models of desirable behavior, and when that behavior becomes widespread, it also becomes self-sustaining. However, few people understand that norms change one person at a time. When someone offers a living example of behavior that solves a problem, others can be powerfully influenced by that one person. The behavior often catches on one person at a time.

I once attended a formal meeting in a sweltering hot room. All the men in jackets and ties were absolutely dying from the heat. Everyone wanted to remove the excess clothing, but no one was sure it was “okay.” They kept looking at the big boss with pleading eyes hoping he would make the first move. Finally, one man—not even the most senior person in the room—arrived a bit late, gasped at how hot it was, loosened his tie and removed his jacket. The person next to him looked at him, and slowly removed his jacket. Almost immediately, three or four others did the same. Then the big boss did. Then everyone did.

Everyone desired change—they just needed a reasonable person to set the example. Be the reasonable person.

2. Influence with words.
While offering a splendid example, you can also accelerate change by speaking up about better ways of managing. But be careful; if you don’t speak up well, you’ll come across as a critic or a bore. Here are some things to keep in mind so you come across as credible and useful, rather than whiny and weak.

Share the facts.
It’s sad but true that nothing is more rare in organizations than data-driven arguments. Opinion leaders are often the ones who have done the homework to marshal facts. This doesn’t have to require research teams. It could be that you simply send an informal e-mail to a handful of people you know who left the organization involuntarily and ask a few questions.
When you talk to your colleagues and can say, “You know, the last four people we let go report that they did not have any prior warning…” your argument sounds much different from when you simply complain about how your friend was mistreated.

Motivate with natural consequences.
After sharing data, share consequences. But be careful to share those that your audience cares about. Don’t be so immersed in your own agenda that you suffer debilitating selfishness. When you’re so absorbed in how the problem affects you, you tend to communicate in ways that make it unlikely others will be motivated to action. You may, for example, influence your colleagues to manage performance better by saying, “I’m aware of five people who updated their resumes when Enid was fired. They saw her dismissal as evidence that no one is safe.”

Under- rather than over-state.
When sharing natural consequences and data, never make the mistake of overstating your data. When you do, you undermine your credibility and decrease your influence. In the moment when we’re doing it, we delude ourselves into thinking we’ll achieve the opposite. But people these days are so accustomed to bombastic pundits who use exaggeration as their primary communication tool that we immediately dismiss those who resort to inflammatory excess.
Hint: Never start a sentence with “never” or “always”—you’re almost always overstating your data when you do.

Frame criticisms by acknowledging tradeoffs.
When you want to offer a critique of what others have done, avoid assuming they were simply weak-willed or dumb. In many cases, they already considered some of the concerns you are about to raise but there were other tradeoffs involved.
When you’re stepping up to a crucial conversation in which you want to challenge a decision someone made, do your best to imagine potential tradeoffs they faced. Acknowledge those tradeoffs before sharing your additional view of the consequences.

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