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Expert tips on influencing and managing up

Recently at the Lucidity Network I spoke to fundraiser turned leadership, team and career coach Jennifer McCanna about influencing and managing up.

A big part of any new project or change process (in fact anything involving people) is convincing others that it’s a good idea. You can’t expect anyone to like your new idea or project and therefore making any type of change will involve an element of influencing.

Sometimes when we talk about ‘influencing’ it can feel uncomfortable, like it’s a dark art, manipulative or political. If you ever work with others you will, whether you realise it or not be influencing their behaviour and decisions. It’s not just at that moment when you want someone to get involved in your project, back your idea or see your point of view, we are influencing others all the time through every interaction that we have. We are more likely to influence or be influenced by those that we know, like and trust. It’s your choice to be deliberate rather than accidental about building good relationships. You might even feel more comfortable substituting ‘influencing’ with ‘building good relationships’ – it amounts to the same thing.

Managing up is not just your relationship with your boss; it’s the relationship you might need to have with any senior colleague. It’s easy with senior colleagues to fall into a parent-child relationship. Managing up involves breaking that pattern and having a more equal two-way dialogue. It’s the process of using initiative and communication to lighten your managers, or other senior colleagues’, workloads. It’s about supporting them by identifying and sharing ideas for growth and helping them to achieve their goals. It’s not about doing your managers job, dodging systems and processes or trying to be the boss before you’re ready (and its also not about sucking up).

Jens first tip when it comes to influencing and managing up is to understand your strengths, style and how you come across to others. Until you raise your self-awareness it’s really hard to work on building effective relationships with others. Next, think about the other person. Get in their shoes. What do they what from you? Right now? Do you know? Have they told you? (Hint, if they haven’t then ask them) What’s going on for them specifically as well as what’s going on in the wider context? What do they care about? What are they trying to achieve? What are their drivers? What’s their personal style? What’s their preferred communication style? Are they happier in the mornings or the afternoon? By understanding them, you can adapt your style and ask to meet their needs.

To effectively understand someone else you need to be able to really listen. Listening skills are important and often overlooked. And listening to understand is different from listening to advocate for your own agenda. If you know what’s going on for someone you have a much better chance in positioning something in a way that appeals to them. Spend as much time as you can just listening.

We’re in our head a lot of the time and we often intellectualise about a situation, however the best way to really increase your understanding of the other person is to understand how they feel. Jen and I both do this with the individuals and teams we work with by asking them to role-play being the person they are hoping to influence. Asking questions like ‘How do you feel right now?’ ‘Tell me what life is like for you right now?’ and answering as the other person changes the dynamic completely and creates empathy. One person I did this exercise with could feel, when they played the part of the person they were influencing, how their style had been (inadvertently) threatening the other person. They went back to the person after being them in the role-play and shifted their approach. They got a different response that opened up a dialogue rather than closed it down (which was happening before).

Jen introduced us to another way to see a situation differently by using random objects. Here’s how. Pick up some things that are on your desk, for example, a mug, a pen and a stapler. Use the random objects to play out a scenario with those that you are hoping to influence. For example, the pen might be your director of finance, the mug might be your manager and the stapler might be your director of HR. Place them on the table. Think about how close they are to each other depending on how good their business relationship is. Move the random objects and see what happens. Find a paperclip (that’s you!) to add to the mix. What happens? Ask ‘what if?’ questions. What if we moved the stapler closer, what if we moved the pen nearer the mug? Where are you now? Where do you want to be? Have fun playing with the patterns. Does it give you insight about where you need to invest your time in building relationships?

Think about whom it’s important to have good relationships with to get your job done. Who’s powerful and who will help you progress your projects effectively? Sometimes who you are trying to influence is not linear, it’s not the person at the top of the organisational hierarchy. Alternative structures exist outside of organisational charts. Think about informal relationships, for example, who’s on the softball team, who smokes outside, and who manages the diaries of the senior management. It might be that those are the people to ensure you build good relationships with to influence others.

If you’d like to hear this interview as well as a whole host of other experts on topics including innovation, creativity, making time to think, resilience, failure, networking skills and personal brand then you can find them all at the Lucidity Network. There’s more information and how you can join here.

Do you work in cycles?

Do you work in cycles?

At the last Lucidity Network event, Productivity Ninja Grace Marshall gave a thoughtful and fun talk on how to be less busy and more productive. She was great, and as always got me thinking. I’ve written before about not leaving your personality at the door when you arrive at work and about being your best self. Grace spoke about the human experience of work. How with technology, automation and remote working the work environment is changing. But we are still human beings doing jobs and whilst we can adapt to change (albeit slowly sometimes) we are still people and we have certain needs and limitations. And our customers are people with needs and limitations too. Sometimes an automated response simply isn’t adequate when we need to connect with another human.

I took three key things away from Grace’s talk.

1. Cycles – everything in nature has a cycle. In a year we have four distinct seasons, each with a different purpose. Do humans have cycles too? I certainly feel low energy at this time of year and much better when we’re fully into spring and even better in summer. I think I do have a yearly cycle. In a day we have cycles too. Everyone is different – some people do their best thinking in the morning, others in the afternoon. Taking regular breaks is important for productivity too. The art is noticing when you’re at your best and planning the difficult work that you really need to apply brainpower to then. And if you can, do this on a daily basis, and if you can a yearly one too.

2. Efficiency and effectiveness are different. You might be very efficient at say, stuffing envelopes, but if sending an email will get the same result in quicker time the most efficient envelope stuffer in the world is not working effectively. I suspect this happens a lot in organisations where things have always been done the same way, no one questions the status quo and there is little appetite for change.

3. Human capacity – this is how much we can take on. It’s not about having a full diary, it’s about knowing what your own capacity is. For example, just because you have a space in your diary, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you have the capacity for another meeting. If you’re tired, it’s hard to concentrate and time without attention is useless. Linked to this, is your emotional capacity to do things. We only have a certain amount of emotional capacity and some days require more emotional capacity than others. We need to keep our emotional capacity at a healthy level. Become more aware of how you’re feeling emotionally, for example, do you feel like you’re on a knife edge or that you can cope with anything that the day throws at you? Notice the people who build your emotional capacity and those that drain it. Spend more time with people who build you than people who drain.

If you’d like the opportunity to listen to great speakers at exclusive events and get help and support to be less busy and more productive then check out the Lucidity Network. For a regular dose of food for thought and to stay in the loop with our upcoming events, sign up for insights. You might also like the free Lucidity Facebook community – a place to get help and support as well as access to expertise and advice. Join here.

F—it and step out of your comfort zone

Our conversation was all about comfort zones: why it’s important to step out of them and how she’s stepping out of hers.

Emma was diagnosed with early onset Parkinson’s at the age of 29. It was unexpected to say the least. Emma has reframed that unexpected news as an opportunity to reinvent herself and as a reason to do the things that make her happy right now rather than put them off for some point in the distant future.

This year Emma is completing her F—it List. She’s deliberately putting herself out of her comfort zone and doing something new or different every day for the whole of 2019.

It starts with ‘Try January’

January is always full of resolutions, people stop doing things that they enjoy or are bad for them (these are often the same thing in my experience). Emma thinks ‘Try January’ is a better philosophy – starting a sparkly year in the way that you mean to go on. Emma decided to do brilliant things in January and didn’t want to stop after a month. Why not make it a year? Why not make it a way of life?

‘You have a choice about how you see the world. It’s your responsibility to invest in yourself and progress yourself. No one else has this responsibility – it’s down to you.’

Emma started with a list of brilliant things to try and over the months and as news of her F—it List has started to spread she’s getting offers to do things that she didn’t even know existed! The list now includes an eclectic mix of edible cinema, trips to underwater lakes under shopping centres, flower arranging, shooting guns in a firing range, learning a language from a colleague in a lunch hour, scuba diving, hot air ballooning and a visit to Japan.

Emma is really geeky

When it comes to data and spreadsheets Emma is a self-confessed geek. She’s working out how to use her F—it List to do good. Often investing time and money in ourselves can feel narcissistic. We feel guilty. Yet, looking after our physical and mental health or simply being kind to ourselves is fundamental to our wellbeing. For example, Emma is thinking about how activities make a person feel, both mentally and physically. What emoticon would describe it? She wants to be able to say, ‘If you want to feel like this, then do this F—it List activity.’

The F—it List is not about doing ‘scary things’ because everyone’s comfort zone is a different shape and size. It’s more about taking responsibility for and looking after yourself, learning new things and spending time with people you love.

Learning new things involves exploring unknowns and this means stepping outside of your comfort zone. Being able to step outside of your comfort zone is important because as the world around you changes, what you know now isn’t going to be enough to get you to the place you need to be in the future.

Tips for stepping out of your comfort zone

Ask yourself ‘What’s the worst that can happen? Make a list of the worst things and then work out how you’d deal with them. For Emma, she shared that the worst might have already happened – because being diagnosed and living with Parkinson’s isn’t the best news. So in a way, Parkinson’s has taken the edge off the fear because she’s doing well with the ‘worst’ and this has made stepping outside of her comfort zone easier.

Know yourself. Work out how you react to things. Do you thrive being thrown into the deep end or not? Stepping outside of your comfort zone is not necessarily about doing a great big massive thing that terrifies you. Assess if you will achieve more by taking small steps or one giant leap?

Be accountable. Ticking something off on a list because people are watching provides a level of pressure and accountability. Tell people your goals and they will hold you accountable. Be realistic about what you can achieve. Whatever your goals, doing something small to keep moving in the right direction is better than stopping still.

Surround yourself with people who are stepping out of their comfort zones. Best friends don’t always understand. According to Tim Ferriss, you are the ‘average of the 5 people you spend the most time with.’ Find others who will push you and challenge you. Spend time with people who help you up your game, cheerleaders and honest friends.

Just do it. Make the task feel smaller than it is. Sometimes doing something new gets built up in your head as being scarier than it actually is. Stop fear taking hold by breaking the task down into small and manageable chunks. For example, if you struggle to speak up in meetings, start practicing to speak by agreeing with a colleagues comment. This will help help you build your confidence.

Have a project pre-mortem. Get to the route cause and name the fear. For example, I was afraid of going scuba diving, and when I unpicked it, my fear wasn’t about breathing under water; it was about finding a wetsuit that fitted combined with anxiety about getting in and out of a boat. Once I’d identified these fears I could pick out how I was going to deal with each of them one by one and they became more managable.

Be a bit scared. If you feel comfortable then you’re not pushing yourself. Remember that you will be missing opportunities by not stepping up.

If as Emma says, happiness is learning new things and spending time with people you love, get more curious, surround yourself with the important people, step out of your comfort zone and go and learn.

Follow Emma’s progress on the F—it List blog.

If you are interested in learning and achieving more, join me for a free training webinar on stepping out of your comfort zone on Wednesday 17 April at 12.30pm UK time. Places are limited. Sign up here. 

Why OOO aren’t just for when you’re “out of the office”

Why OOO aren’t just for when you’re “out of the office”

How many emails do you get a day? 10, 20, 50, more?

I wear many hats: journalist and editor; communications consultant; trainer; holiday home owner; creative writing retreat host; barn renovator. I’m in touch with many people and I have a lot of people wanting to get hold of me.

It would be easy to find myself in a state of overwhelm, drowning in emails, too many of which are from people demanding my time, energy and money. Instead I decided to reframe my relationship with my inbox.

I view every email contact I receive as an occasion to help people better understand me and my businesses. And just as importantly, as an opportunity to manage expectations. I control my inbox instead of it controlling me.

Let’s take this latter point first.

Most people use their OOO to let others know that they are indeed out-of-the-office and as such there will be a delay to their reply.

However, even when you are in the office, unless you are a slave to your inbox and have it open all the time – in which case I would seriously question your levels of concentration and productivity – you are not going to respond immediately.

Despite this though, many people expect an almost instantaneous reply. They have little regard for your actual priorities and think it should be all about “me, me, me”. (The person who sent me the press release at 10am and then sent a chasey email two hours later. Yes you. I’m talking to you here).

By setting an OOO each morning and providing details of the likely response time they’ll receive, it helps set expectations. It also indicates that if they’ve got something that is actually urgent to ask of me, they should find another way to get in touch. And always, if clients call or WhatsApp me, I’ll respond asap.

So that’s a helpful use of the automatic reply beyond your usual holiday scenario.

“This week I’m in the Dordogne hosting a relaxing retreat for busy women”
Much more fun though is using my OOO to let people know what exciting projects I’m working on. I’m very fortunate that I get to work with some brilliant minds on activities that really do change the world. My work is also varied, challenging, fun. Why wouldn’t I want to tell people all about this?

I like to set colourful and creative OOO’s that help spread good cheer, share key messages and strengthen understanding of the depth and breadth of what I am capable of.

Some of my recent favourites have included:

Thanks for your message. Today I’m working with the awesome Prisoners of Conscience, which supports people who have been persecuted for standing up for human rights. They rightly have my full attention and so I won’t pick up your message until tomorrow. I really appreciate your patience, thank you. And if you fancy learning more about the important role that Prisoners of Conscience plays, check them out here.

And…

Today I’m writing radio scripts, coaching clients to enhance their writing skills and working on the marketing for my creative writing retreat. I’m also finalising the details for the Lucidity Network’s business book club. If you’re not already a member of the Lucidity Network, you need to ask yourself one question – why not? Hope to see you there soon! (And I’ll get back to your email asap, thank you!)

And…

This afternoon I am helping a client taste test and photograph a collection of Italian meals. It’s a hard life, sometimes. I’ll get back to you tomorrow. With thanks for your patience, Becky 

Now, the astute marketeers among you will be wondering whether this is a GDPR-friendly approach or not. I’m happy to confirm that having checked with clever people who know about this kind of stuff that it is.

They told me that if there is no “sales pitch” included in the copy then it’s absolutely fine. And even then, it’s still ok as the OOO is in response to an email that I’ve been sent. A “conversation” is taking place. This is not me contacting someone out of the blue. The only risk would be if I sent a very salesy OOO to someone who had contacted me to say they wanted to opt out of email communication.

The responses I have received to my OOO’s have always been super positive. People often contact me to say how much they enjoy reading them, how inspiring they are and how they’re going to start doing the same. They’ve also been shared across social media multiple times and Richard Sved even wrote a blog about it! (Thanks Richard!)

In Richard’s blog he comments on how my OOO is “lovely, surprising and delightful” to receive, which leaves him with lots of positive messages about how I feel about my work. Which is precisely the intention. I want people to feel as excited about it as I am! So, I’m going to end this blog by paraphrasing Richard’s excellent blog title and ask you: When was the last time your OOO made someone go “ooo-h”?

Let’s start an OOO revolution. Let’s use it to engage the world in what we do, to share messages of positivity and success, or to simply bring a smile to someone’s face.

Will you join us? Let us know in the comments – and show us some examples of your shiny and sparkly OOO messages.

Becky Slack

 

Becky Slack is the managing director of the PR and comms agency, Slack Communications, and the co-host of L’atelier des écrivains – The Writers’ Workshop, France, a four-day creative writing retreat in southwest France and a member of the Lucidity Network.

Are you asking the right question? (Part 2)

are you asking the right question - part 2

When I started studying Cybernetics, in 1982, we were asked to read ‘Introduction to cybernetics.’ (Ashby 1956).  After sleeping on the first three pages I produced the following chart:

Cybernetics processes to apply to information tight systems/machines developed from the ideas in the introduction of ‘Introduction to cybernetics.’ (Ashby 1956 from Hibbs 1992)

I noted that Ashby suggested that by working out a cybernetic example of ‘all possible uses’, one may identify important information gaps.

This was something that I could get my head around at this early stage, so I decided to explore it.  I first chose a ball-point pen to analyse, but soon abandoned that as being too complex. A lead pencil seemed more promising.

I started with iterations of a spider graph and before long would have needed paper the size of my room to put all the possibilities.

The analyses included attempting to use the concepts from the chart above.  I decided that ‘represented by’ might be some form of transformation or substitution, in which the wood might become charcoal and the paint molten paint drops.  I noted that there are many possibilities for using the whole or parts for unusual purposes: mini building blocks, cogwheels, wedges, dice …

When I started to think about the ‘lead’ I quickly realised that it was not the metal, lead, but graphite!  My research showed me that graphite is active with very strong oxidisers like fluorine, chlorine. Because except in a vacuum where its layers are not so slippery, it is the ‘universal lubricant’, excellent for door locks because it does not become sticky.  Usefully it is stable to minor trauma, but abraded and transferred to surfaces that are not microscopically smooth, like paper. So, that explains why it does not work if there is grease or oil on the surface.

I found no ideas for ‘ultrastability’ but some ideas for ‘feedback’ by observing written marks, hearing it crack or feeling or seeing it break.  Then I decided that a database of feedback mechanisms might be useful in future and suggested that the new Exercise Physiology Department (now part of Brunel University) would have useful components for such a database.

In a similar way, I continued to work through the chart.

When I came to the next seminar my supervisor asked about it, “Would anyone else be able to follow the paths that you have taken?”  I said, “In theory, yes, but many of the databases have yet to be built.” He said “Fine. Leave that now and learn Cybernetics.” In the appendix A of my thesis, I provided instructions to follow my thinking.

So, what is the question that you should ask? — ‘What are all possible uses?’, rather than the usual one, ‘What else could I use it for?’.

If you think about it, lots of things that we do are reusable with modifications, but most of us treat a lot of what we do as single use, not thinking that one might be able to use them to leap-frog on another occasion.  Storing whole entities or single components in retrievable form with a suitable address, could save hours of work.

Those of us in innovation too often ‘miss a trick’ by asking ‘all uses’ rather than ‘all possible uses’, a question that takes your creative brain forward to exciting reverie and possibly some great ‘aha’s’ in the hours, days, weeks that follow.

My thesis is: Information handling: concepts which emerged in practical situations and are analysed cybernetically.  1992 Accepted for PhD. ISBN 1 873015 03 8. The online version is available for free download here. Full copy at Brunel University and the official deposit libraries including the British Library.

 

Genevieve M Hibbs former: nurse (general and occupational health), midwife, Christian missionary, lecturer, elected councillor, mayor and a member of the Lucidity Network. To connect with Genevieve and the other wonderful members of the Lucidity Network join our free Lucidity Facebook community for clearer thinking and better results.