Dr. Robert Karlsberg  and Dr. Jane Adler

Article Summary:

How to influence people in your organization to win them over to your line of thinking.

How To Influence People In Your Organization

Think for a minute about how you typically go about persuading.

If you’re like most people you emphasize facts and the strengths of your argument. You assume that a powerful, logical “pitch” will win people over to your way of thinking.

The reality is that this approach isn’t likely to win people over at all. When it comes to influencing people in your organization, simply making them aware of your message and the logic behind it isn’t enough.

Sure, you can force people to go along… for a time. But to paraphrase Vince Lombardi, true leadership involves not only the ability to direct people, but the ability to have them embrace your direction.

So how do you get people to willingly, even enthusiastically, accept your ideas? The key is to present a picture that resonates with their emotions and their desires for the future. To do this, you need to recognize that persuasion isn’t a one-shot deal, it’s a multi-step process. The more attention you pay to each step, the more likely you are to reach your desired outcome.

Build Your Foundation
Before you can effectively persuade, you need a foundation of trust. While credibility doesn’t guarantee you’ll convince anyone, without it, you’re doomed from the start.

First, you must have expertise credibility. You either have the qualifications that inspire people to have faith in your judgment, or you need to bring in experts to support you.

Second, you need relationship credibility. People need to trust your motivations and feel confident that you’ll keep your word. The more exposure they have to you and the more you show interest in their concerns, the more likely you are to build trust. With a small organization, you can accomplish this through one-on-one contact. To influence a bigger group, you’ll need to rely on forums and other large-scale approaches.

People won’t accept you as an authority on where they need to go, unless they believe you’re an authority on where they currently are. As you build trust with people, you’ll find it much easier to get a candid understanding of their perspectives.

Canvassing is a series of interactions that gives you a clear picture of people’s current views and an understanding of their goals and aspirations. There are a number of approaches you can use depending on the size of your organization. Keep in mind that, regardless how you canvas, the process should give you an opportunity to gain valuable information and build credibility at the same time.

A classic example of successful canvassing on a massive scale was “ValuesJam,” the 3 day forum conducted over IBM’s corporate intranet in July 2003. Through this forum, CEO Sam Palmisano pieced together a picture of how IBM employees at all levels felt about the current values and future direction of the company. This approach not only provided Palmisano with information, but strengthened his credibility in the process. Both were critical factors in his ability to effectively influence IBM’s global workforce.

Fly a Trial Balloon
Once you have a good idea of people’s perspectives, it’s time to fly a trial balloon. Open up dialog in small groups. Test your ideas with opinion leaders — key people from the group you want to persuade.

Discuss and debate your planned direction. Ask for their feedback and ideas. It’s important to give opinion leaders an opportunity to buy-in to your ideas, and to contribute suggestions. By building trust with opinion leaders, you’ll be able to ride the coattails of their credibility.

Frame Your Presentation
By now, you should have a good sense of people’s values, concerns and aspirations. Think clearly about the benefits your plan will bring them. Will it make work easier, improve service, increase job security? If you can’t think of any benefits your ideas bring to the people you want to persuade, you’d better start over!

Begin your presentation by restating people’s perspective of how things are and how things could or should be. Incorporate stories, metaphors and analogies that correspond with their emotions. People have no resistance to ideas that they see as their own. Only after you’ve accurately described their perspective, should you present your plan to arrive at an outcome that will benefit everyone.

Preparation Pays-off
The more effort you put into the early stages of persuading, the better you know your people and the more able you are to accurately reflect their emotions. The more your vision of future possibilities resonates with people’s dreams and aspirations, the more likely you are to influence people to go your way.

Dr. Robert Karlsberg and Dr. Jane Adler are experts in leadership effectiveness and the psychology of change. As principals of Executive Dynamix, they work with senior executives and business leaders to maximize performance and accelerate key results when leading or implementing change. For more information visit ExecutiveDynamix.com

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