Call upon your persuasive powers to get the job done says Heather Wright
It often feels like hierarchy and influence go hand in hand, but the capacity to influence others isn’t exclusively linked to stature and job titles. As an assistant, it may sometimes feel either uncomfortable or even impossible to influence others in the workplace, but it’s not necessarily the case.
When we aren’t the most senior person in the room, it prompts us to call upon our persuasive powers in order for others to listen and take note.
The perils of forcing your opinion
Authoritative people might argue that barking instructions is the way to have impact and command respect. However, in my experience, it’s not only inappropriate to make demands of others when we haven’t sussed out the power dynamics, but it’s also aggressive and limits any opportunity to be properly heard.
We can choose to adopt a more considered approach and reflect on what’s really going on when it comes to navigating relationships.
A helpful CLUE
I like to use the acronym ‘C.L.U.E’ which is a powerful way of remembering the elements that contribute to unlocking the power of influence:
C = Connect
So often in communication we are focused firmly on our message, but less so on the perspective of the listener. In order to resonate you have to find common ground and understand where others are coming from. Creating a connection enables us to empathise with someone else’s situation and their view of life.
American poet Maya Angelou said: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
L = Listen
Quiet listening is an underrated skill. We often think that those who talk the most have the greatest potential to influence, but is that really true? When we genuinely tune into others we start to appreciate what is important to them.
Listening requires ego to dissolve into the background, so it’s not something that comes naturally to all people (particularly extroverts)! However, it is extremely valuable as it gives us information that can inform how to relate to that person.
U = Understand
Understanding happens in unison with listening and allows us to hear beyond the words and explore the intention behind them. The challenge comes when we let our opinions about them stand in the way of what is being said. It requires us to transcend this surface-level judgement and explore more deeply what is important to that person.
Most conversations have three components; facts, feelings and identity. Often someone will relay something that happened (the factual element) and they will weave in a translation of how it made them feel, so facts are then blurred by emotional interpretation. A critical component within the narrative is the emphasis on identity, which links the event and its interpretation to their sense of self. When you understand this more fully, you are able to see all the factors that are at play.
E = Empower
Consideration of how you position what you’re going to say is key. This is informed by what you know about the person, having listened and understood where they are coming from. The focus now is on making what you say relevant. It’s also helpful to remember that people like to hear solutions not problems, particularly in the workplace, so you’ll have more impact if you frame what you say in a way that removes, rather than adds to, pressure.
When you start to understand the relationship between what someone is saying and how it relates to their identity (their story about themselves), it provides the key for you to create an impact, regardless of that person’s job title. When you understand how a person perceives themselves, you can speak in a way that makes sense to them and shows your alignment with their thinking, which creates an affinity and relevance.
I once read a book when I was about 16 which has always stayed with me. The author challenged the reader to consider three questions before speaking: Is what you are about to say truthful, is it kind and is it helpful?
When we get really honest with ourselves we recognise that we don’t always meet these three requirements, but when we do we are far more likely to communicate meaningfully, to resonate with others and to be someone whose opinion other people will consistently value.