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Power Play: How to Expand Influence

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Influence is often more about listening than speaking.

When we feel strongly about something or have an important goal that involves the participation of others, we can launch into a recommendation, argument or request beginning with what matters to us, rather than what matters to the other party. Then, if they don’t seem to get it, the tendency can be to repeat the same words, perhaps increasing the volume. Yet, being heard in the way we want to be heard often involves tapping into where the other person’s energy is.

At the request of her boss, Donna regretfully took on management of a complex, unpopular project at work. While she deftly managed to give away its more problematic aspects to colleagues with special expertise, she did have to ultimately make a presentation on it to her firm’s executive committee, knowing that some members were angry about the issues it raised. Aware that she represented not only herself but her department and other employees, she wanted a win for herself and others. We spent a couple of sessions preparing for this important conversation and its challenges. She identified her main goal to be to shift the mood of these top leaders from frustration to curiosity about the opportunity she saw. In 20 minutes. After the meeting, a member of the committee privately complimented her, pointedly noting that she had done just that.

Donna’s boss commended her on her success overall. Her skill, courage and planning resulted in a new way of thinking about a challenging topic, infusing new energy into an important initiative affecting many people.

To expand influence, engage others in what really matters to them. When we position ourselves as deeply understanding the other person’s point of view, we are not only heard; we can profoundly expand what’s possible in the relationship. How we prepare for an important conversation, with one person or a group, can make all the difference. To master what I call “The Art of Being Heard”:

  1. Plan important conversations, determining the specific outcome you seek. What is needed to achieve that outcome? To attain her goal in shifting the mood, Donna focused on what might be heard as opportunity to her leaders. Keep in mind that “report on progress” is an activity, not a strategic outcome.

  2. Consider what really matters to your audience. What would be a win for them? If you are speaking to a group, consider each individual or constituency represented. Donna’s leaders were interested in results, and she helped them to begin to see some new actions.

  3. Position the issue to how it relates to what really matters to the audience as you begin the conversation. You will immediately have their attention. Tie recommendations and the consequences of inaction to how they impact what matters.

  4. Anticipate challenges and plan for them. Consider addressing each obstacle and challenge before they come up. This can often dissolve them, and build the attention and engagement of your listeners.

  5. Check in with your audience as you speak. Look at individuals as you make points. Pay attention to facial expressions. The looks on people’s faces tell you if they are engaged. If someone seems distracted, consider gently asking something like, “Thoughts? Have I touched on something you have a question about?”

With each conversation, you can continue to expand your influence.

Jackie Sloane is an executive coach specializing in leadership communication. Her clients report greater effectiveness, visibility, influence and satisfaction through becoming more strategic in how they work with others. Have a topic you’d like to see covered in this column? Email us at editor@executivetravelmag.com.

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