31. The Art of Influencing

November 26, 2010

Many years ago I went to my first ever workshop on personal skills. It was called 'Persuading and Influencing the Verbal Way' and there were about a dozen participants from various professions and disciplines. I sat next to a surgeon in his sixties who, it turned out, had been 'told to come' by the powers that be at his hospital. The trainer started off by asking us to talk to our neighbour about why we were there and what we hoped to gain from the day. I paired up with the surgeon. 

'I honestly don't know what I want from this course,' he said. 'I don't understand all this persuading and influencing stuff. If I want something done, I tell the person to do it and they do it!'

I felt a bit sorry for him. His attitude had been completely acceptable as little as ten years earlier, a normal part of the 'command and control' culture that characterised organisations in the seventies and before. But as Jo Owen, author of 'How to Influence', says, that world is passing away. Position alone is not enough to command respect in today's society, and instead of fostering and enforcing compliance among the people who work for and with you, you need to foster hearts and minds.
This week's tip is about influence and what you're prepared to do to get things done.

'Entrepreneurs are simply those who understand that there is little difference between obstacle and opportunity and are able to turn both to their advantage.'
Niccolo Machiavelli

Many years ago I read Machiavelli's The Prince, a well known manual aimed at helping politicians to acquire and keep political power. Machiavelli was a philosopher and writer based in Florence in the Renaissance, and became famous for, and almost synonymous with, the saying 'the ends justify the means'. Reading it with mainly forensic interest, therefore, I was surprised to find that within its pages there's a great deal of sound common sense and surprisingly little of the base behaviours for which he became so well known. 


I was once again surprised when I recently read Jo Owen's book, 'How to Influence', but this time by the more obviously manipulative methods I found there. But as Owen says, influence is not in itself a bad or a good thing, it is what it is used for that is either good or bad. He also says that even if you don't feel comfortable using his methods, you need to know about them because other people will be using them on you....


Here's a flavour.


To influence someone, he says, you need to have their trust, and one of the important components of building trust is 'values intimacy'. 'Values intimacy' means seeing the world in a similar way to another person. When you meet someone and discover that they seem to value the same things as you and have the same priorities as you, you are more likely to like them, listen to them and trust them. If they espouse a completely different world view, on the other hand, you would probably be reticent in giving your views, listen to them with a degree of scepticism and be cautious in what you agreed to.

It's a simple equation - your chances of getting something from someone depends on your ability to empathise with their world view, plus the degree to which what you are asking from them fits with that view. 


Everybody, says Owen, has a personal 'script' which says what kind of person they want to be seen as. Once you understand a person's self image, he says, you can get them to do anything that reinforces that image. For example, some people have the 'hero' script. They have saved their organisation from imminent disaster, they tend to be good in a crisis and they make things happen. The key to influencing this type is to appreciate their past heroics and say that you need them to do it again, in your area, and that there will be great recognition if they do.

So how is it done?


First of all, you obviously need to know what the other person's script is and the keys to discovering it are:


� Listen. Let them talk about themselves
� Respect their world view, empathise and do not try and compete with them, or challenge their view of themselves. 'They won't like it'.
� Recognise them - in private certainly, and in public if opportunity arises. 'Very few people think they are over-recognised.'
� Remember that money is not the main motivator. 'If your idea or request reinforces their self image, they will find it extremely hard to deny your request.'

If you feel a bit queasy about doing this, it's worth knowing that, as well as being a successful entrepreneur, Jo Owen is a co-founder of Teach First, a charity that recruits and trains top graduates to teach and raise educational attainment in schools in deprived areas. The question that arises is, would you be prepared to sacrifice a little integrity in order to do something good?

The more sand has escaped from the hourglass of our life, the clearer we should see through it.
Niccolo Machiavelli


Try this:
1. Think of the last time you tried to get someone to do something. Were you speaking to your script or theirs? What was the outcome?

2. Think of something you would like from a person you know, whether at work or in your personal life. What is your script here, and how would you tend to approach this person? From what you know about them, what is theirs? What is important to them in life? What kind of person do they like to be seen as? If you don't know the answers to these questions, spend some time listening to this person and finding out.


3. How could you use this knowledge to increase your chances of success?

Let me know how you get on, and have a good week!

 

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