This is a common question we get asked, “how can I possibly influence someone when I have no authority over them?”.
And our answer: the same way you would if you did have authority over them.
Really, that’s not as glib as it sounds; what we mean is that what you have to adjust is what goes on in your head because what goes on in your head will influence your body language, what you say, how you react and what your expectations are.
If you try to influence someone who is either higher up or completely unrelated to your area, department, etc., you could have the attitude that they really have no obligation to even listen to you, let alone give you what you want. Right from the off you will be expecting a no; you’ll be drenched in anticipated disappointment.
With that attitude you may come across as apologetic, diffident, possibly even slightly defensive. You won’t be able to convey your wants effectively because your approach will get in the way.
If, however, your attitude is that you have something exciting / relevant/ important / interesting / useful to discuss with them then your whole outlook and manner will be completely different.
We did some work with the marketing department of a very large global organisation a few years back and the theme we had to address in our Influencing courses was that the marketeers had virtually no authority over anyone else in the company with whom they had to negotiate to get things done or changed.
What they struggled with was that aside from benefiting the collective whole of the organisation, there wasn’t really anything in it for the people they were trying to influence. Or so they thought.
Most delegate's aha moment came when they realised just how much their attitude 'influenced' their ability to influence. Once they saw that they could choose their attitude, then the practical tools were a piece of cake.
Once you have an attitude shift, there are so many more options available to influence where you have no direct clout.
Here are some easy, practical tips you can use to influence:
1. Think about what might make you more amenable to hearing someone out when you have no real obligation to do so. Although not applicable to everyone, a fairly reliable approach to take is to acknowledge what the other person has done that makes you want to influence them in the first place.
It isn’t about false flattery (you can try that but I’m not a great fan), it’s about genuinely recognising their talents, expertise, abilities.
2. Empathise with their position, perhaps letting them know that you assume lots of people must come to them for help or advice and you don’t want to overburden them. Personally, I’m far more likely to look favourably on someone who makes an effort to understand how busy I am than someone who just assumes my door is open 24 hours a day.
3. Make an effort to see the situation from their point of view. When we want something it’s very easy to get caught up in trying to convince the other person about what our point of view is and to keep plugging away till they ‘get’ it. A far better tactic is to put aside your perspective for a bit and look at it from their perspective, or what you think might be their perspective. You can even say something along the lines of, “I’m wondering if this might be going on for you…..” or “I’m assuming this might be happening…..I wonder if that’s the case?”
Get them talking about what’s going on for them and you will have a tonne more information than you did and you can use that information to adjust and tweak what you were going to say.
What all of this does is to help shape how others see you so that you are someone other people want to support rather than someone people duck behind desks to avoid.
By Jo Ellen Grzyb, Director of Impact Factory
Check out our Influencing and Influence and Negotiation Courses.