"I never win," says the woman sitting at my table as the draw for door prizes begins. While the din of excitement rises around her, she barely glances at her ticket, firm in the belief of her own bad luck. Unlike the rare eternal optimist, many of us believe that previous experience with luck determines future luck. There is evidence that suggests we choose behaviors and tactics based on how successfully — or unsuccessfully — we have employed them over time.
Hence the woman at my table remembers the many times she did not win the coffee maker and forgets the time she took home the centerpiece.
When it comes to trying to get people to do what we want, we pay particular attention to how specific people have responded before to our attempts at influencing them at work — how much “luck” we have enjoyed as a result of those successful efforts.
But influence does not rely on luck. If you understand how and why your previous influence attempts succeeded or failed, you are on solid ground in using that past behaviour to predict the future. Leaders who are savvy influencers learn from their previous influence experiences with their colleague and incorporate their insights into new influence attempts. These leaders pay particular attention to their colleague's preferences, characteristics and attributes as they influence them.
In my research, however, I have found that often we pay more attention to tactics we’ve used in the past, and overlook the peculiarities of the colleague we wanted to influence. These unskilled influencers are more likely to be unsuccessful in their influence attempts because they do not consider what they know about their colleague from previous times they tried to influence them. In other words, successful influence is a combination of the right tactics for that colleague. Not everything is a nail, even if all you have is a hammer! Savvy influencers are skilled at using a range of influence tactics, and they strategically apply the right tactics based on their understanding of their colleague.
One my coaching clients, Michelle, was having a hard time influencing her colleague Peter. She couldn’t seem to get through to him. She kept trying to appeal to how the change will be better for him. When we started to unpack how she was approaching it, it became obvious she wasn’t leveraging what she knew about Peter and what he responds to. Unlike Michelle, who loved change, Peter valued the tried, proven and consistent — he was skeptical of anything new. After realizing she was trying to influence Peter based on her preferences, she repositioned the ask and based it on Peter’s preferences and what would resonate with him. Michelle tailored it to emphasize that it would be aligned to the current direction, it would involve minimal change, and other organizations had already adopted this approach and were getting great results. To her delight and amazement, she was successful and Peter was committed to working with her.
When you pay attention to the person you are trying to influence and focus on their preferences and characteristics you get better outcomes.
To increase your chances of making your own luck when influencing your colleague, ask these questions first before you decide to use your go-to influence tactics:
- Have you always been successful before when faced with similar influence situations with your colleague?
- Can you ask anything of your colleague based on your previous influence experiences?
- Have you generally not been able to influence your colleague?
- Have you been successful or unsuccessful influencing other colleagues in similar situations?
- Has your colleague seldom done what others wanted him or her to do?
Once you have the answers to these questions, you can then craft your influence approach and tailor it specifically to your colleague to get their commitment. For example, if you know that you have been successful before in similar situations, you can feel more confident it will work this time, too. However, if you have not been able to influence your colleague in similar situations, then you will need to determine another approach based on their preferences, characteristics, and past experiences.
When you notice people around you who are frequently lucky in their attempts to influence others, chances are they’ve taken the time to understand what tactics are going to work best with their colleagues. The next time you feel your influence is falling short, make sure you're focusing on whom you are trying to influence and shape your plan accordingly.