A big part of a happy and productive working life is being able to work well with other people. Your ability to get on with others and develop good relationships is fundamental to making progress and impact. If your role has anything to do with people changing, whether that’s a new process, product or way of thinking, you will have to be able to influence others.
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.
What about influencing people who are more senior?
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 it’s also not about sucking up).
When influencing or building good relationships here’s some things to consider.
Understand your strengths
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.
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.
Get out of your own head
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. I know that you’re likely going to hate the thought of this, but a really effective way of doing this is through role play.
Have a go at role playing the person you’re 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).
If you’re finding a relationship tricky, a way to see a situation differently and potentially unlock a different approach is 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?
Map your network
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 or who manages the diaries of the senior management. It might be that those are the people you build good relationships with to influence others.
People often bring some of the challenges of working with others to Lucidity mastermind groups and my one to one coaching sessions. If you’d like some help and support to make more progress at work and are interested in finding out more about how Lucidity can help you, then get in touch. Drop me an email to email@example.com or book a time to chat here.