The irony of influencing is that if you do it in the right way, people won’t notice it.
Think about it: if you know you’re being influenced, does it change your inclination to do something? Do you want to say “no” because you feel you’re being manipulated? There are times I’ve realised, midst conversation, that I am agreeing to something that I wouldn’t usually agree to and then I have to ask myself, why am I inclined to do it this time? Is it because the person asking me is someone I care about and so I’m OK to do something I wouldn’t normally because it means I have helped them? Is it because I can see the value in doing it, i.e. I can recognise the benefit to me? Or is it just because they asked nicely, appealed to me and helped me understand, made me feel good so I can’t think of a reason not to?
If I do something due to this last reason, it is down to how well that person has influenced me. But I probably won’t be aware of all the machinations that have gone into how they did it though. Similarly, they will only know they have influenced me if they hear me say “yes”, see me behave differently or do what they asked me to do. If I don’t do any of those things, then their strategy failed.
We can influence in a variety of ways: building strong relationships with people, building trust, doing something for others so they will be more inclined to do something for us, being a ‘nice’ person etc. How we communicate plays an integral part in this process and I’d like to focus on that aspect of influencing.
How do I like to be influenced? Basically, I like you to speak to me in my language. English is obviously a preference considering my language skills only go so far as conversational French and very basic Mandarin. Speaking my language is more than my native tongue though – it’s using similar words, having a conversation based on things I like to talk about and mirroring my body language, expressions and energy level. Basically, matching my style. This is positive influence. It’s about being a conscious communicator – listening to understand, using words carefully and effectively, using the right tone, thinking about your audience and tailoring your message accordingly.
Here are 4 ways you can influence through your communication:
The best tool in our influencing arsenal is the ability to listen but it is probably the least used when we communicate. What is the difference between hearing and listening? Hearing is the sense by which sound is perceived or the range within which sound can be heard. It is more of a passive action. Listening is different – it is about concentrating on hearing something or to take heed or pay attention to something. We have to consciously listen to someone and actively participate in the conversation to show we are listening and have understood what he/she has said. Active listening by paraphrasing what you have heard and saying it back to the speaker in your own words confirms you have heard and understood what has been said. It can also just be a nod of the head, an empathic laugh or ‘mmmmm’ or just a couple of words such as “you’re tired” or “that’s tough”. Think about the last time you felt really listened to and what that person did – what made you feel they were listening and had understood you?
- Use your voice effectively
Our voices should support our communication and reinforce the message we are giving. If we are excited about something, the voice should convey that through a slightly higher pitch, lots of modulation and expressive tones; similarly if we are conveying an important message, the pace will be slower with more downward inflections on important words and a lower tone. How do you use your voice? Do you consciously think about how to say something – whether you should slow the pace, lower the tone or introduce more upward inflections? Taking a step back, do you know how you sound? When we leave the house in the morning we check in the mirror that we look OK and have the right clothes on but do we spend any time thinking about how we sound and if we have the right ‘sound’ for the day? A lot of business is carried out over the phone and your voice is sometimes the first thing people experience of you so you want it to be at it’s best and to sound appropriate.
- Know Yourself
You need to start with yourself – figure out your own style first and then you can gauge how you usually approach conversations and interactions with people. If you’re process and information focused then your approach will be on the task in hand and completing that. If you’re people and relationship focused then naturally you will want to spend some time getting to know the person and creating excitement about the scenario. If you tend to take the lead in most situations then you’ll approach a conversation as a way to tell someone what they need to do; if your preference is to ask questions and make considered decisions based on other’s opinions then you’ll want to be directed and wait for the team’s consensus. It’s important to remember that there is no better or worse style and we have all these styles in us. We have a more dominant style that is observable and consistent and this is our preferred style.
- Know Others
Once you know your dominant style, then understanding the style of the person you are talking to is the next step. To influence someone, you need to speak their ‘language’ and meet their needs in terms of communication style. If I am people focused and I am talking to someone who is process and detail oriented then I know I need to be succinct, stick to the facts and be clear about what I need them to do. It’s not as important to this person to have a relationship with me so I should avoid spending too much time at the beginning of the meeting trying to build that relationship. Morphing to someone else’s style is like going on holiday to another country and adopting their customs and preferences whilst you are there. You are not fundamentally changing your beliefs or customs but you are recognizing and respecting that there are different styles and ways of communicating.
So the irony of influence is that it takes effort as detailed above however it won’t be noticeable. Generally, when we put a lot of effort into something we want people to recognize and notice it. But not when it comes to influence. So, taking the time to actively listen to someone, being conscious of how you sound and the impact of your voice, knowing your own communication style and morphing to others’ styles are at the core of being able to influence positively. Not easy to do but start now, practice will make perfect and look out for its effect!