So often when I work with people on influencing strategies, they have one of two “ah-has.”

  1. I know a lot about people, but I don’t use that knowledge. Or, even more often…
  2. I don’t know anything about the person. Now what?

Real Influence Is About Strategies Based in Understanding

My approach to gaining real influence is through understanding of the people and the dynamics. Without that understanding, we are stuck with striking out “as if everyone is just like us.” Getting to know people takes time and effort. I highly recommend taking that time, and breaking through any personal anxiety or belief that you cannot gain access to people. And, sometimes time is too short for the task.

Three Approaches When Your Information Is Limited

What can you do when you are right in the middle of the action and realize you don’t know the key players well (or at all)? First, accept a vulnerability that limits your power to your content knowledge and a generally compelling case for action. Rather than throwing your hands up, here are three alternative approaches:

  1. Work with the data points you have about the person. Lay the information out on paper. challenge yourself to organize your current data (please don’t try to do it in your head). There are probably public sources you haven’t tapped like LinkedIn or your organization’s biographical sketches. Have you done a google search? In other words, don’t dismiss the data you have or get as much as you can through quick sources.
  2. Engage others in building your understanding. Who do you know who knows the person you need and want to influence? Who understands the dynamics of the “play?” And, recognize that much of what you might hear is based on that person’s database and his or her assessments. As humans, we are easy to judge others on a very limited set of data.
  3. Test your hunches. Weave the data you have about the person and the dynamics. See if a few possible profiles emerge. Use what you know about people who are like the person you want to influence. Ask yourself, “If I were this person, what would I care about?” Then, be very careful to treat these possible profiles as hunches. You don’t really know the person. You can test those hunches by trying different approaches and observing reactions.

The most important message today is don’t give up if you don’t know a person important to your work. If you don’t have time or access to get to know him or her, work with what you can know.