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Mastering the Art of Influence

When it comes to getting your employees to do what you want, don't discount the effect of a positive impact.

Do you sometimes question the amount of authority you successfully exert over your employees? Do you ever think you're not as commanding and effective as you'd like to be? If so, you're not alone--many other entrepreneurs share similar concerns and would like to be able to increase their influence over their employees. (We're defining influence here as the process of having an impact on other people.)

My experience shows that business owners who master the use of influence are significantly more successful than those who don't. These masters of influence inspire people to do what they want them to do; they motivate their staff toward increased productivity, profitability and achievement without incurring the typical cost of organizational repair and maintenance.

Gaining and maintaining influence over your employees involves three crucial challenges:

  1. Creating specific, measurable and attainable goals
  2. Identifying the tools, or resources, necessary for accessing internal and external sources of influence
  3. Defining and using influencing techniques

To get started, first visualize a specific, measurable and attainable task or series of tasks that, when achieved, will make you feel influential and appreciated by others as being influential. Then sit down and figure out just how you can transform those tasks into a series of concrete, achievable steps.

Next, identify the tools, or resources, you already possess as an influential or potentially influential leader. These resources are the factors that assist you in expressing influence. And don't think you don't have any! Whether due to modesty, lack of awareness or just plain ignorance, many of you probably don't use or are even aware of the internal tools at your disposal. In other cases, you may need to borrow tools from external sources to increase your influence.

Not sure what tools you have at your disposal? Here a few examples:

  • Intelligence
  • Good judgment
  • Creativity
  • Knowledge
  • Skills
  • Assertiveness
  • Interpersonal network
  • Budget
  • Equipment
  • Past successes
  • Reputation
  • Expertise
  • Job position
  • Charisma
  • Leadership ability

Of course, no one has all these tools. But clearly, the more resources you have and the more you can amass from others, the more influential you'll become.

The strategic question now becomes: With your specific, measurable and attainable goals determined and with your key tools in place, how can you positively influence your employees so they're working to their full capacity? The answer is, by learning specific influencing techniques.

We all know how to yell, scream, rant and rave, but those mechanisms are rarely effective when it comes to exerting influence. Oh, they can impact others--but the impact is usually short lived and most often negative. And negative influence often encourages retribution, resistance and decreased quality on the part of the person who was negatively influenced.

Recent research shows that the following seven methods are the most effective techniques when it comes to influencing others:

1. Rapport. This technique involves creating relationships by expressing your feelings and identifying those feelings in others. So ask your employees how they feel, how their work is progressing, what they feel are obstacles to their success, how they feel about the work and the workload they have. Then be honest and tell them how you feel about them and their work style and their productivity. Sharing this type of information lets others know exactly "what the score is" and often leads to improved openness and productivity. Employees will appreciate your efforts and concerns about them and their work.

2. Teamwork. To develop a feeling that you're all the same team working for the same goals, you need to create a synergy

You want to create an environment in which everyone is effectively working in a unified and coordinated manner with others to meet organizational goals. As you put people together in teams to solve problems or chart future courses of action, your employees will get to know each other better, can more effectively use and appreciate others' skills and expertise, and will build on each others' capabilities to solve problems. When the outcome is efficient and productive, you'll be seen in a positive light since you were the one who created the teams.

3. Logic. This technique involves managing your employees by using valid, rational reasoning. When speaking to your employees, carefully, in a clear, unemotional and orderly manner, explain issues, ideas and processes. And be sure to solicit their questions and concerns, then explain any uncertainties and complexities in a manner that makes sense to them. If you can remain unemotional--but not unfeeling--about the goals you all need to achieve, your employees will come to regard you as a very effective leader.

4. Assertiveness. When you ask questions, when you make assertions, when you share ideas in a manner that doesn't overwhelm, embarrass or minimize your employees, they will come to admire you and value your input because you have learned to express your thoughts and feelings with due regard for others. Furthermore, your employees will usually share more of their questions and concerns with you because you will have created a "safe and positive" environment for them to work in.

5. Aggressiveness. This is the second cousin to assertiveness and involves expressing your thoughts and feelings without due regard for others. Although this isn't a technique I'd recommend you use on a daily basis, in times of emergency when quick responses and actions--like decisions or directions--are needed, being aggressive can be seen as positive, as long as the emergency doesn't occur with frequency.

6. Credibility. You'll gaining respect by demonstrating your expertise using appropriate language and timely and accurate responsiveness. When you correctly respond to employee questions or concerns, when they can rely on you to follow up, when you modestly demonstrate your expertise, you easily impact others and have a very strong, positive influence on them.

7. Cultural hierarchy. Understanding and using your knowledge of "how things are done around here" is a powerful way to get others to do what you want. By reminding them what acceptable behavior is by modeling it yourself and by acting in a manner consistent with those behaviors, employees will learn to respect your leadership abilities and be willing to follow your direction.

These seven influencing techniques can be learned and easily applied to almost any situation. At times, one strategy will be more effective than another; sometimes, a combination of strategies is even more potent.

When considering which strategy to use, you need to consider these key factors:

  • your preferred style of leadership
  • the style and personality of the person you want to influence
  • the issue at hand
  • the specific situation
  • the location or environment in which the influence will take place. For example, a specific strategy used to influence an employee during an employee review may not be the same one to use during a sales training class.

The secret to mastering the art of influence is to create specific, measurable and attainable goals, determine which tools or resources you have at hand to deploy, and then employ your techniques. The world needs truly influential leaders. Be one!

Dr. David G. Javitch is an organizational psychologist, leadership specialist, and President of Javitch Associates in Newton, Mass. Author of How to Achieve Power in Your Life, Javitch is in demand as a consultant for his skills in assessment, coaching, training and facilitating groups and retreats.

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