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As a training professional, you may encounter situations in your career where you find you have lots of responsibility, but little to no authority or power.
I found myself in that situation when I was a project manager on various instructional design projects. In most cases, my fellow team members were not my direct reports. I was not the boss of my instructional designer, subject-matter expert, or IT colleagues.
Even as a Langevin Master Trainer, there are times when my power is limited. My workshop participants don’t report directly to me. I’m not their actual supervisor or manager. This situation is especially evident when I’m hired as a visiting instructor who’s been outsourced to facilitate a course at a client site.
So, this brings me to the question: how do you get others to do what you need and want, when you have no real authority or power? The answer might lie in the concept of influence.
I recently read a book titled The Agile Manager’s Guide to Influencing People. John R. Hook, the book’s author, gives some sound advice on how to use influence as a tactic to move others toward your point of view, thus accomplishing your goals. Mr. Hook, a former instructor at the US Military Academy and Johns Hopkins University, maps out a very methodical process of applying influence to get what you want in various business situations.
Although I won’t attempt to summarize the entire book, I will focus on the author’s insight as it relates to understanding and using influence styles. Hook focuses on three influence styles: logic, common vision, and mutual participation. Understanding these styles may help you find specific, persuasive arguments that work best on the person or people you’re trying to influence. I will address each of these influence styles in this article.
The first influence style, logic, relies heavily on offering factual data and concrete evidence. The logic style requires the influencer to do their homework by researching and presenting information in a concise and logical manner. Facts and statistics must be included in each argument, and counter-arguments may have to be used as rebuttal.
I find this style works best when interacting with individuals who have an analytical personality type. Although a bit stereotypical, analytical people are often described as precise, systematic, and structured. From my experience, a person who possesses these characteristics will usually connect best with the logical style and approach.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but I once used the logic style when interacting with a subject-matter expert from the accounting department at a former job. I was required to partner with a gentleman to gather financial information for a course I was designing. As the project progressed, his schedule became very hectic, resulting in his cancelling or rescheduling meetings and conference calls. When we did eventually connect, he was often hesitant about divulging much needed information regarding his department and their processes. At the rate things were going, I knew it would be difficult to get necessary information from him unless I adjusted my interactions with him.
I assessed the situation and analyzed his personality type. I realized that he was a busy individual who was extremely numbers-driven and results-oriented. I determined that a logical approach was the best way to influence him to provide me with quality information. I achieved greater success when I gave him solid, chronological deadlines with ample advanced notice. He seemed to respond better to concise communication which focused heavily on the “dollars and cents” of the project. Lastly, I made a conscience effort to show him how his contributions were significant in moving the project toward completion. Using logic proved to be successful for me in this particular influence attempt.
Next, I’ll examine the second influence style the author mentions, common vision. This style often includes a bit of logical and factual information, but it also appeals heavily to the values and emotions of the person you are trying to influence. The common vision style specifically focuses on the individual’s hopes and aspirations. The influencer attempts to generate excitement about a better future for which the other person values (either for themself, others, or the organization).
Mr. Hook shares a personal example of using the common vision style. He describes a situation where he attempts to “sell” an idea to his superior, a university president. Based on the description provided, the president likely possessed the traits of a visionary personality (e.g. insightful, idealistic, committed to a cause, etc.). Mr. Hook approached him accordingly, using common vision influence.
The example gives a detailed account of the following scenario: to generate extra revenue for the university, Mr. Hook proposes the idea of establishing a management development center. The premise was to have local business leaders pay for consulting services from faculty members who were employed in the university’s school of business.
Logical arguments were made to the university president; however, according to Hook, his superior wasn’t sold on the idea until he finally persuaded him with a common vision argument. In his own words, Hook addressed the president by saying, “When we get the center operating, we’ll have our business school faculty in the boardrooms of many local businesses. People will recognize that our faculty members, who can do a good job with these senior managers, must be doing a great job with students at the college. The reputation of our institution will undoubtedly grow.”
Because the university president was a visionary, a “big picture” type of thinker, and was committed to the growth and development of the university, Mr. Hook was successful in using a common vision influence style to encourage the president to agree to his idea.
The third influence style is called mutual participation. This style relies heavily on dialogue with the other person. In this dialogue, the influencer doesn’t push their own point of view. Instead, ideas are drawn out from the other person. The influencer constantly lets the other person know their ideas and contributions are valued and appreciated. In the end, the other person buys into the idea because they feel they helped develop it.
I’ve successfully used this influence style in the corporate classroom when I’ve encountered participants who seem to possess a “know-it-all” personality. I immediately acknowledge that person’s expertise. Sometimes, that’s done in simple conversation or through an activity like an icebreaker, where there’s focus on their years of experience. From there, I start working on their ego. Whenever they say or do something that has actual value or merit, I go out of my way to publically acknowledge that.
Lastly, I put them to work. I try to obtain as much information and involvement from that participant as possible. I ask their opinions. I enlist their help with tasks. With a watchful eye, I might even ask them to coach or mentor less experienced participants.
One of my favorite classroom activities allows the “know-it-all” participant to either complete an individual brainstorming session or lead a group brainstorming session. I carefully position the brainstorm so it captures all the information that I’d normally present anyway; however, at this point, I’m not viewed as the authority that pushed my personal ideas, beliefs, and information. The participants are responsible for their own information. Using this technique, I’ve learned people don’t argue with their own data!
If you find yourself in a situation where you have no real authority or power, I encourage you to use influence as a tactic to get what you need and want. As with any interpersonal situation, I’d recommend you carefully process the information you have, consider personality types, and use the appropriate influence style.
Have you ever had an opportunity to use logic, common vision, or mutual participation in an influencing interaction?
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