The One Where: We Learn to Influence

Influencing is a huge part of business.

 

But, we are strong believers in not influencing someone to do something they don’t want to do. You shouldn’t need to, and this isn’t influencing for us.

 

A salesman can probably sell milk to a cow farmer. But to do so, would need to ‘influence’ and convince the farmer they needed milk. The farmer doesn’t need milk – the farmer has a cow farm! This type of influencing doesn’t work. It might work once, but the farmer won’t be tricked again. This is not a sustainable business and you lose credibility in the future.

 

You shouldn’t need to influence someone to do something they don’t want to do. The art of influencing is making the other person want to do what you are proposing – not forcing them to. A common question, is should you do investment A or investment B? The answer is the one that makes the most sense from a business direction. If investment A is the best business decision, then you need to be able to articulate why.

 

Our experience of influencing and seeing people influence, is very different to the articles written on websites such as Harvard Business Review. These websites, suggest that to influence, you need to:

 

            Build connections

            Become an expert

            Be willing to negotiate

            Mind your body language and your tone

            Map a strategy

 

These are all crap, well, mostly crap.

 

Why do you need to build connections? Connections comes down to the premise that people do things for you, because they like you. This isn’t a popularity contest. Influencing shouldn't be about doing a favour for someone.

 

Why do you need to be an expert? If you need expert legal advice, pay for a consultant who will help. If you are discussing whether to do investment A or B, you don’t need an expert – otherwise decisions would never be made. Experts can provide factual advice, i.e., tax structure, legal structure, you don’t need an expert to influence.

 

Willing to negotiate? This isn’t influencing, this is settling.

 

Map a strategy? This refers to identifying the decision makers, and then looking at them one by one and asking, if you can directly influence them, or if you need someone else who you can influence, to influence them. This sounds more like the strategy to blackmail or manipulate people. If you need to go to this effort to ‘influence’ someone, you can’t influence.

 

Body language and tone – this is one that makes the most sense, as it is linked to communication.

 

So, what does actually influence people? From our experience, the following are key attributes of real influencers.

 

Prepared to be unpopular

 

Despite the previous claims. People that influence are often unpopular. They are seldom the crowd pleasers. They speak up, question and challenge. But because they are thorough and they do these things, this is exactly why they influence. Their agreement, their proposal is worth more, because they have a reputation for being thorough and someone worth listening too.

 

Articulate very well

 

Back to communication. We have witnessed so many debates being won by the weaker perspective, because the person debating that side, can articulate in a much better way than the other side.

 

The argument itself is less important than how to phrase, articulate and present your argument. Articulating your point in a way people can understand and relate to, is critical to influencing.

 

Logical

 

You must remain logical in your arguments. Emotion cannot get in the way and sourer your judgement. It is very easy to pick up when emotion creeps into the argument – this shows you have lost control.

 

Think it through

 

Not the current impact but the second, third and fourth impact that will occur from this decision. For example, should we do investment A? It might help the P&L now, but it will stop you from investing in investment B, which will mean XYZ. Think past the decision to the consequences - and articulate this.

 

Be consistent

 

If you say “No” due to reason X one day, and the next you say “Yes” due to reason X this isn’t good. This makes you unpredictable and people are not sure where you stand, which creates nervousness and uncertainty. If you want to influence, people know what you stand for – that’s why they will stand behind you.

 

Influencing is key in business. But it is not to be confused with coercion. Back to what we said at the beginning, the art of influencing is making the other person want to do want you are proposing. They may not even realise they are being influenced.

 

If you can explain in a logical and articulate way why something should be done, then you can influence anyone.