Several years ago, I was going for a big promotion. New role, bigger title, more money. It was a fantastic opportunity for me and an unorthodox move for my boss (I didn’t have the years and years of experience typically expected for that role). To be certain I could handle it, I was given a trial of sorts.
It involved leading a project for a senior stakeholder (let’s call him John) who could be notoriously difficult to influence and almost impossible to make take action (note: getting people to take action was kind of our job). As my boss gave me the directive she said (only half joking) “If you can win him over, you can win anyone over.”
I won him over and I got the promotion.
The approach I took completely matured me professionally and changed the way I thought about influencing people. I used to work in business development but I’m not a natural salesperson. ‘Selling’ turns my stomach but I’m a business owner. Go figure. Like most people, authenticity and integrity is really important to me – as both a buyer and a seller – so to influence successfully, I had to do it with integrity. Here’s what I learnt…
It’s not me it’s you
Influence is basically one person getting another person to do something. It becomes icky when the person trying to influence uses techniques that are manipulative and play on fear, insecurities or perceived weaknesses.
When I was working on that project, I needed John to take particular actions for the project to be successful. The thing was, by that project being successful, it wasn’t just a win for our team or the firm – it was a win for him personally too. And that’s the bit I focused in on. The other ‘wins’ were important too, but they were secondary. John’s success on the project become my absolute focus. This was a conscious mindset shift and, I believe, the moment I was able to become truly influential. When someone really wants the best for you, really wants you to be successful, it’s hard to ignore them or turn away.
I was showing up every day with that purpose. I needed John to take particular actions so he would be successful on that project – and I made sure he knew that. I made it about his success, not mine. The benefits to him, not me.
The first rule of influence – make it about them, not you.
Make it easy for them to take action
Once you’ve made it clear that your priority and motivation is the other person’s success (whatever success means in the particular context), you need to make it as easy as possible for them to take action. I worked out the time of day I could get the best out of John, I knew what his days were like and what was coming up that week or month. Wherever and however possible, I removed any barriers to him being able to take action easily.
One example it email. Sending an email to someone with 1000s of emails in their inbox is automatically creating unnecessary barriers to action. If I needed quick and decisive action, it was a conversation or text. Simple. Done.
If someone is busy and you’re trying to force them to take some action by sending long email after long email with increasing urgency, marked IMPORTANT, and maybe adding Capitals, Bold and Underline for good measure – it’s not going to work. Firstly, you’ve already made it about you and not them, and secondly – you’re making it really hard for them to take action. Now they have to wade through their inbox and your long emails to understand the action before they can even think about taking it. If it’s that important, pick up the phone or (if possible) speak to them in person.
No one was ever influenced by an email.
If you’re a business owner, make sure it’s really easy for your customers to engage with and buy from you. Do the work for them and don’t ever assume they’re as invested in taking action for you as you are. They’re not.
Keep showing up
One of my go-to mottos for most things in life is always play the long game. I’m not about quick wins or instant gratification – I graft, I persist, I keep going. I am in the camp who believes the biggest difference between those who succeed and those who don’t is perseverance.
Playing the long game also applies to influence.
You don’t influence someone overnight. Influence requires trust, and trust requires proof. I proved my commitment to John’s success by showing up every day, being consistent, demonstrating my loyalty and value through my behaviour. He grew to trust that I knew what I was talking about, I respected his time and I had his best interests at heart. Over time this allowed me to influence his behaviour, if I needed some of his time or I needed him to do something, he would – he trusted me.
Show up for the long game, not the quick win and your influence will last beyond that project, sale or campaign. It will probably lead to recommendations and referrals too (one of the best drivers of influence). John went on to request me for other projects and sent a personal endorsement when I was moving into a new role.
To influence with integrity just focus on the other person first and the incredible things you can help them achieve. True influence is lasting, not momentary and situational. Keep showing up, make it easy to take action and always remember, it’s not me, it’s you.