Some people make the mistake of thinking that being influential means always getting things your own way. I recently worked with a client who was frustrated that one of her key people was constantly pressing her to provide him with more resources, more support and more power, all the while refusing to do his actual job. Although she was open to discussing his requirements, she insisted he provide a rationale for the requests first — in other words, make a business case for himself. He flatly stated he was far too busy.
In disentangling the behaviors, it became apparent that her staffer believed that influence meant his needs and objectives were the only ones that mattered. Because this kind of persuasion doesn’t work, the situation devolved into a stalemate, where he began to complain about her lack of support to anyone in the organization who would listen. And of course, everyone likes hearing gossip about others!
Interestingly, he believed that his loud and frequent complaints were actually displays of courage and leadership -- speaking truth to power, as it were. He thought it was his duty to raise these issues as no one else in the organization “had the guts” to do it. He didn’t exactly endear himself by telling everyone else that he was the lone brave soul surrounded by cowards. Nor did everyone agree with his perception that his complaints and concerns were universally shared.
The fundamental mistake he made was to attempt to exert influence without any consideration for the target of his attempts. He also went immediately to hard tactics, which would rarely be the best first course of action. His anger put blinders on him, so much so that he didn’t realize he was projecting his worldview onto everyone else. It never occurred to him to check those perceptions. Had he done so, he would have learned that not everyone was feeling under-resourced, overworked or unsupported.
His lack of empathetic preparation had a huge impact on his relationship with his boss and with his peers. His boss didn’t see him as a leader taking accountability but rather as someone not interested in making things better. Positioning himself as a victim and spreading negativity and gossip throughout the organization was making him toxic. All this combined to diminish his boss’s trust in his motives and his abilities.
At this moment, he is facing a possible dismissal from his job -- probably not an option he considered, given that he spent no time looking at the situation from a different perspective.
Being strategic in your influence preparation means thinking of your position as that of a problem solver -- someone who wants to make things better overall, not just for yourself at the expense of others. It’s a type of win-win, collaborative approach where the outcome is a net benefit for everyone.
Strategic influencing works when you:
• Look at things from the other person’s perspective
• Think through objections and turn them into what can work
• Have expansive thinking rather than "can't work" or "no"
• Come from the perspective of wanting to say yes
Strategic influencing doesn’t work when you:
• Verbally vomit over someone with your demands on what and how
• Are too emotional due to stress so overreact and make the conflict personal
• Are seen as a victim, complainer or believe everything is negative and nothing will get better
• Make others feel defensive to the point of avoiding you entirely