Most of us have limited direct power over much of what we want to impact. So, when someone else has the final say on gaining acceptance for our ideas, proposals, projects, programs, and issues depends upon our ability to persuade the decision makers. That involves influence. How we proceed with superiors, colleagues, peers, volunteers, and even with subordinates is crucial. Here are some things to keep in mind:
1. Distinguish influence from manipulation. Even though the words are used interchangeably in conversation, influence is distinct from and contrasts with the methods and outcomes of manipulation. Influence is the process or action of producing an effect without apparent force or direct authority. Manipulation, meanwhile, is the practice of consciously or unconsciously employing devious, deceptive, or dishonest means to achieve a desired goal.
Influence improves professional effectiveness, increases credibility, and enhances relationships, building trust and confidence that increases the likelihood of future cooperation and collaboration. Manipulation may result in getting "credit," but also imbues relationships with suspicion and guardedness, resulting in resistance, resentment, and revenge.
Influence practices include an "open" agenda, increased data, and free choice. Manipulation practices involve a "hidden" agenda, limited data, and forced choice. Influence is a win/win, with concern for the other's outcome; manipulation is win/lose, caring little about the other's outcome.
2. Be clear about what outcome you want. There are many ways to "crack a coconut." But it is essential to know the purpose of the cracking: coconut milk, coconut meat, coconut fibers, or the shell itself serving as a dish or decoration. The "function served" can frame your argument and get a ruling or decision in your favor.
3. Include a clear, explicit intention in what you do. If sustainability, engagement, or teambuilding are an essential part of your meeting planning, lead off your presentation or recommendation with what you are intending to do. That puts your agenda out on the table for all to see.
It also means that decision makers will have to consider the criteria you introduced, such as a greener meeting. So, even in rejecting your particular idea, they begin to consciously and explicitly consider those criteria in their decisions, maybe even improving upon your recommendation. But you planted the idea. You held sway with a gain in awareness and consideration of "green" criteria.
4. Develop a classic and generic persuasion protocol. If you have a protocol that is classic (good for all time) and generic (good for all situations), then build on it. Begin with both the objective and the decision maker in mind.
Do your homework. What is the history of this objective within the organization? You may have to go to the archives or a veteran employee to find out. Is there any support either outside or within the organization toward achieving this objective/intention? How has this decision maker been involved? Be clear on the current reality, feasibility, and risks.
Think like an administrator and list the features, benefits, and costs. What are the risks? Do a cost/benefit analysis and determine the stakeholders and the obstacles. How does this fit with the overall strategic plan and budget?
Determine who the decision makers are and WIIFDM (What's in it for the decision maker). What are her strengths, values, emphases, style, stated agenda, pressures, weaknesses, preoccupations, language, attention, buzz words? By whom is she influenced? Who is the real power behind each decision?
Time your intervention. Timing is everything. Once you are prepared and know the players and the territory, anticipate resistance and rehearse sufficiently. Settle on a time to introduce your information. You may want to spell out your idea in chunks of data over several weeks. You will want to predispose the DM to be receptive, not impose your agenda. If you ask for a decision before the DM is informed, you will surely get a "no." Give the DM time to digest the information and come up with questions, concerns, and options. The more the DM talks, the better for you to assess where the DM is coming from.
A few other points to keep in mind depending on the response to your suggestions:
1. If the answer is "yes," clarify what will be done when, by who, and reported back to whom. Provide any additional information required for a clear agreement. Spell out what are the necessary and essential details and steps. Guide the project and keep it on track.
2. If there is a request for negotiation, know your limits. Make sure you do not compromise what is necessary. Counter initial resistance or concerns about cost or resource utilization by proposing a pilot project.
3. Should you get an unfavorable answer, find out what specifically is being rejected. Get all the feedback you can. Look for alternatives. Wait for an opening. Express clearly the costs of saying "no" and what is likely to happen in the absence of approval and execution of this project, idea, program.
4. Know when to hold 'em and know when to fold 'em. However, be savvy enough to recognize what is currently stacked against you. If resistance is personal, have someone else propose it. Budgets and personnel both may change. Pick your battles and make good use of your talents, gifts, and convictions.
Dr. Paul O. Radde has presented Influence workshops to the Wall Street Journal sales department, MPI-PEC, Affordable Meetings, the FDA, and the Presidential Management Fellows Program. Dr. Radde heads The Thrival Institute in Boulder, CO. www.thrival.com, (303) 443-3623.