As an underling in the dogmatic hierarchy of the military, I learned (the hard way I’m afraid) that it is very difficult to change your boss’ mind. In many cases however, it was pretty important to change their mind so I had to learn how to influence people.
Today I find the need to influence people when I come against a stumbling block, a person who is stopping me from achieving my aim. The individual doesn’t want to let me go forward, so I need to work out how to influence them.
In his 1936 “How to Win Friends and Influence People” best seller, Dale Carnegie lists 12 ways to win people to your way of thinking. Of these 12 there are a few which I can personally attest are absolutely fundamental to influencing others:
- Show respect for their opinions, never tell them they’re wrong
- Let the them do most the talking
- Admit when you’re wrong and move on
I was fortunate to work for an excellent mentor and tutor who passed on a great many lessons about influencing people. Combined with the DISC process I’ve picked up since, I now find myself using these techniques every day.
What kind of person are they?
The first part in influencing someone is to work out what kind of someone they are. How do they think, how do they act. There are many different models and I quite like the DISC assessment process. If you’re unfamiliar with it, people can be generalised into strong “dominant”, “influential”, “steady” or “conscientious” personalities. These personalities can then help you identify potential sources of influence and it is usually pretty obvious which one of these categories people fall mostly into.
What or who are their influences?
Once you know what sort of person they are, the next part is to find out what or who influences their decisions. Dominant people are pioneering, to the point and generally love to believe they owned an idea from the start, so to influence them is to let them come up with the idea. It is a very powerful and humbling experience to let someone take credit for your idea to achieve the end result.
Someone I once worked closely with never liked my ideas because they were my ideas (he felt threatened that I might take his job). His point of influence was easy, all I had to do was say that someone else suggested them and bang! He was on board.
Influential people love to talk and are somewhat emotional, most importantly they listen to their friends. To influence the influencer is to take a step back and influence those around them. If they talk to five of their mates who you’ve already bought on board then they will be easier to negotiate with when you approach them directly.
When working on a joint project I saw that I had a road block ahead with an upcoming meeting. Prior to the meeting I asked Mr RoadBlock’s peers for their advice on the ‘issue’ – which was my solution in disguise. They didn’t know it, but by giving their advice they were actually forming an opinion based around my solution.
Steady people do not like change and are very trusting. I find the best way to influence them is to take the time to go through the problem or proposition with them. I’m a very visual person, so I love using whiteboards. I’ll ask a “steady” person to the whiteboard and ask them to draw and talk through their objections. I can then work these objections and let them dictate how they come around.
I was designing the model of a new combat system component for the Navy’s destroyers and had a high ranking (and stubborn) stakeholder with me who wanted the impossible. I couldn’t tell him he was wrong, so instead I took him to the whiteboard and asked him to map out why he wanted things the way he did. After talking through the problem out loud he realised himself why it was impossible and agreed to do things our way.
Finally conscientious people love rules and regulations. To influence them you need to phrase your proposition in a way that it either fits the rules, or you work out a way to change the rules to fit your proposition. Influencing their superior could be a way to do this.
Influencing their boss
Influencing someone’s boss is an almost guaranteed way to achieve your outcome and it’s an almost guaranteed way to ruin your reputation. Unless you have nothing to lose, do not tell someone’s boss that they need to intervene. They need to come to that conclusion themselves. I find it much more diplomatic to talk the issue over with the boss and let them discover their subordinate’s objections for themselves.
The significant other
The significant other is a very important person to consider when trying to influence someone and we’ve all done it at some stage in our lives. Every young child has asked mum for permission to go out and play knowing dad will say no. Without realising it directly, they’re influencing Dad through Mum.
If you’re good
Influencing is a powerful tool to use when you absolutely need something from someone and they’re not giving it to you. I’ve been in a deadlock which lasted several months and was only resolved after I influenced his boss – which I could only do through his boss which I could only do through her peers. It was a mamoth effort but it worked.
And if you’re good at it, people will never know that you’ve done anything.