#567       Innovative Leader     Volume 11, Number 12        December 2002

Influencing Others the People-Smart Way
by Mel Silberman, Ph.D.

Dr. Silberman is Professor of Adult and Organizational Development at Temple University and President of Active Training (www.activetraining.com).  He is author of 101 Ways to Make Training Active, Active Training, and 101 Ways to Make Meetings Active (Jossey-Bass, San Francisco, 1995, 1998, 1999). His latest book is PeopleSmart: Developing Your Interpersonal Intelligence (Berrett-Koehler, San Francisco, 2000).  

No company can be successful if its people don’t invest in each other and in their customers FOR THE LONG HAUL.  We need employees who work “people smart” and one way to do that is to be skillful at influencing others.

Influencing others has to do with getting them to be receptive to your views, advice and recommendations. It is not about getting them to admit you are right nor controlling their behavior.  Those intentions suggest that you want to change the other person. Attempting to change others is a fruitless endeavor and is usually resisted   Ultimately, you cannot change other people but you can be a positive influence by opening their minds to constructive attitudes and effective courses of action. In the process, you may win them over. 

Unfortunately, many people are too intent on changing others and getting nowhere.

Maureen, a vice-president of a financial services company,  is one of the brightest people I’ve ever met.  And one of the best read and best informed as well.  She can be interesting to listen to …until the point when she wants you to agree with her.  If you see things differently, she barrels ahead, stating with complete certainty how right she is.  She does provide facts and figures to support what she’s saying, but if you still have misgivings, her posture is that “you simply don’t understand.”  Maureen also has little patience when others express views that she disagrees with.  You seldom get the impression that she considers what you think or feel.  The net result is that she rarely influences the views of others.  She may be admired for her brilliance but people keep at arm’s length from her.  Sensing the rejection of others, Maureen retreats until the next moment she is intent on changing people’s minds.  Her efforts are always short-lived and unsuccessful.

      Compare Maureen to Andrea.  Andrea is the training manager in the same financial services company.  She recently convinced her company to increase their commitment to training by $2 million dollars annually.  This was accomplished by a painstaking personal campaign that lasted two years.  When Andrea first suggested to senior management that a greater investment in training its workforce was essential, she was soundly rebuffed with the explanation:  “In our experience, training is usually a waste of time and money.  People will learn what they really need to on their own or by getting help from their coworkers and supervisors.”   Although disappointed by this response, Andrea was determined to do whatever it took to influence a change in thinking.

      The first thing she did was to talk with senior management about their personal experiences with training when they were first entering the company.  She probed into many areas and listened with interest and understanding to the answers she obtained.  It was not difficult for her to identify with the negative training experiences people had because she, too, had similar ones.  She also asked senior management to share with her the business results they were seeking for the coming two years.   Armed with this information, she put together a powerful presentation that featured newer, more effective training strategies.  She also suggested how they could be utilized to impact the company’s bottom line.  Andrea was careful to benchmark the best training practices of other similar companies and establish their “return on investment.”  This time, Andrea received a better response.  Although no commitments were made, she did receive a promise to review her proposal after the next quarter’s results.

       To make a long story short, the proposal was kicked about for several months before given serious consideration.  During that time, Andrea occupied herself with other projects, but also made a point of periodically checking in with her supervisor on the status of her proposal.  After a year went by, senior management was becoming convinced of the merits of Andrea’s views but still did not commit as much money as she had been seeking.  Andrea graciously accepted the small “foot in the door” and, with the budget she had to work with, conducted some pilot programs that were well received and backed up by data to support their results. Now, finally convinced of training’s effectiveness, senior management gave Andrea the total backing she had long been seeking.

People-smart individuals like Andrea are adept at influencing others by being patient and persistent. Their success is a function of three key sub-skills.  By connecting with others, influential people establish a genuine rapport with those they are trying to influence.  Influential people take time to assess needs by finding out the viewpoints, needs, concerns and problems others have.  Finally, they use this knowledge to make a persuasive presentation that appeals to the needs of others so that they see the benefits for themselves.

Do your people attempt to motivate others by using these skills?  Or are they people who plow ahead and merely argue their points and try to pressure others into agreeing with them?  Or worse, do they try to win over others with deception? A few do. You don’t want them on your team.

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