When influence is required, the problem is often either a big personality-player, a complex set of players with competing interests, or a problem that needs to be solved. In this post, I want to share a way to think about the first of those challenges. When you are frustrated with a particular person:
Go in the door in which the person is already standing.
So often, we mistake influence with persuasion. We work to sway the person by our logical proposal or our detail-rich accounting of what happened and what we need. Our frustration mounts when we don’t get agreement. Whether the person we are trying to influence is our boss (with a very specific power dynamic) or someone else who has power, it’s remarkable how resistant we can be about just finding the door to walk through.
Start by answering two questions:
- What does this person care about?
- What should s/he care about (but might not see right now)?
Do you share any of the same concerns? If so, go there first–acknolwedge a shared interest. Or if not shared, how you can orient your interest toward his or her concerns? Can you reframe your intended outcome to link to those concerns? Can you ask a question that demonstrates that connection?
A Senior Executive Example: Sue is your boss. She has achieved major success. Every person close to her business results values her exceptional capability. But, you get frustrated with Sue’s apparent need to be involved in all key decisions and many less important ones. When breaking down what Sue cares most about, you recognize that she:
- Expects innovation and creativity in business and customer plans.
- Drives extreme execution through everything, having amazing personal stamina for doing “whatever it takes”.
- Stop at nothing less than exceeding results, period!
But, you want to make decisions sooner, calculating when creativity competes with execution effectiveness. Her creative ideas often land on your team late in the planning process, which puts a big pressure on the final execution. Reluctantly, you do have to admit that her ideas are always great.
Going through the door in which Sue is already standing might spark one or more of these approaches:
- Anticipate how to get Sue’s creative input earlier in the planning cycle, making the interaction one in which Sue can build on the team’s creative concepts rather than shoot down a full proposal.
- When late-breaking ideas surface, quickly lay out what will be required for full execution—impact now versus moving to the next quarter.
- Link every plan back to key results, illuminating the competing demand for resources (time and money).
- Match Sue’s high energy when creating; at the same time, bring a serious tone to the impact on Sue’s ability to deliver her results.
Ultimately, Sue wants to be assured that she will get the results she needs, hard numbers and the innovation that she associates with success. Everything you do must be positioned within that context. Critical conversations you have can be planned to get ahead of her need to see your team’s effectiveness.
Where’s the influence? If you see “the door she’s standing in” and don’t resist that it’s not your door, you can get what you and Sue want most. She wants results, as do you. You want your team’s process to be efficient. Finding the intersection starts with walking through Sue’s door.