Influencing Skills

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The skill of influencing others is a valuable asset to have; it can help us sell products and ideas, convince people and institutions to assist us, and even get the world to change! After all, while we don’t have the power to control other people, we can always do our best to persuade them.

In this module, we will discuss how to improve our influencing skills. Particularly, we will discuss techniques like seeing the other side, building a bridge and giving in without giving up.

Seeing the Other Side

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The first step in influencing other people is entering their world. This means setting aside your own point of view, and looking at the situation from another person’s perspective.  Remember, each person is unique, and consequently sees the world differently. You can’t always assume that what’s clear to you is clear to the people you are talking to. 

In short, you have to be able to answer this question for them: “what’s in it for me?”

Seeing the other side involves knowing what is important to the other person(s): their values, interests, and preferences. Do they have strong feelings against what you are pitching to them?  What would it take to for them to get over their resistance? What are their characteristics, personality traits, social status, or professions that can you use in order to make your point more convincing?

Research, active listening, and keen observation can help you in “seeing the other side.”

Consider this example:

How do you convince city-based, working mothers to plant medicinal plants instead of buying factory-made pharmaceuticals?

If you are not practicing the skill of “seeing the other side”, you might be tempted to argue that having medicines readily available in the home is more convenient than having to run to the pharmacy every time someone is sick. 

But this argument may not be so convincing if you consider the world city-based working mothers live in. As city-dwellers with full time jobs, working mothers would likely find buying from the pharmacy much more convenient than finding space in an urban home for plants. More so, the demand of having to water the plants and expose them to sunlight every day is too much added responsibility. 

On the other hand, mothers would always respond to one prime value —- their child’s health and welfare. If you can present a case on how pollution in the city and chemical-based food and drugs lower resistance to diseases among children, and that natural medicines are both a way to improve kids’ health and show love, you may be able to build a stronger case for planting medicinal plants at home.

Building a Bridge

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A second skill that can help you during situations that need persuasion is bridge building.

Bridge building is the process of increasing rapport and affinity between people. It can involve making the other party feel at ease talking to you, gaining their trust, and identifying common interests. 

Bridge building is important in persuasion because people are more likely to agree with someone they like, trust, or see as “one of them.” Aside from bridges improving the over-all communication between two parties, bridges can also serve as negotiating grounds. Bridges translate to common interests, which can be the foundation of win-win scenarios.

The following are some of the ways you can build bridges in your interpersonal relationships:

  • Active Listening. If you want to gain another person’s trust, you have to communicate that you value their presence, and that you are exerting the effort to understand what they are saying to you. Listening attentively is a way to do this. 
  • Use Common Language. An indirect way of building bridges is showing by your words, manner of speaking and even by body language, that you are one with the other person. For example, use business language when you’re speaking with the company CEO, but use laymen terms when speaking with blue-collared workers. Pay attention to how the other person phrases his statements; if they’re formal, be formal, and if they’re casual, then follow suit. Similarly, attend to their pace of doing business. Some people like to relax before a deal, others like to go straight to business. Adjust your approach accordingly.
  • Highlight Similarities. No matter how differently two people appear they will always have at least one thing in common. If you want to persuade a person, find these areas of similarities and emphasize them. An important similarity to emphasize is common interests — goals that you both share, that the proposal you’re pitching can address. The previous skill of “seeing the other side” can assist you in this process.  
  • Sustained Communication. Lastly, consistent and sustained communication about matters of interest can help you in influencing other people. If you feel that there is significant resistance to you or to your proposal, or there are marked differences between you and the other person, just persistently meet with the person and open communication lines. Sometimes, your mere visibility in another person’s circle can increase your likeability and credibility.

Giving In Without Giving Up

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Issues are rarely black and white. In most cases, there are areas within a contention that you can compromise upon. If you want to improve your chances of influencing other people, be willing to make some concessions —- even if it’s just at the levels of simply agreeing to differ, agreeing that the other person has a right to their opinion, or agreeing that the other person has made a reasonable argument.

The skill of giving in is important because people generally don’t want to deal with individuals whose intention is to win at all points, or be declared “right” for the sake of being right. This makes the relationship confrontational rather than collaborative. The discussion becomes an argument, and the atmosphere turns tense. If you want to enhance your chances of winning someone over, be willing to consider —and even agree upon —reasonable requests. You may even volunteer to take losses in areas you can afford to give up, as long as you don’t lose sight of the main goal.

A person who is willing to “give in” from time to time comes across as sensible and realistic. Moreover, concessions communicate a sincere desire to do what is best for another person. At the very least, it can promote a culture of “quid pro quo”; I will give you something, if you give me something in return. 

The trick lies in choosing what you will concede. Understandably, you don’t want to “give up” and concede the very thing you are selling. Keep sight of the main goal and judge what you can sacrifice based on this main goal. If you can create a win-win compromise between what you want and what the other person likes, better. 

Consider this example:

How can you convince your boss to allow you to take freelance work outside your company — something that you initially agreed not to do?

What if your boss tells you that you signed a contract that you will work exclusively for them, and that you taking freelance work outside the company will just result in a conflict of interest?

If you start opposing what your boss just said —- for example you argue that they have never given you a single raise since you started five years ago and the economy has since changed —– chances are, you’d just make your boss upset and defensive, decreasing your chances of influencing him or her.

However, if you concede that you did sign a contract (which you did!), and that yes, you can see how such a move can create a conflict of interest, then you can “mellow” your boss down. 

This doesn’t mean you’ve given up, however. You can follow your concession by presenting an alternative win-win proposal. How about a change in contract that states that you can’t take freelance work from the company’s main competitors, and that you’re obliged to refer to the company any deal worth $5000 and above? The arrangement can give you the extra income you want, without the conflict of interest.

Case Study

Dave often felt frustrated when people didn’t see eye to eye with him, because he felt their ideas were flawed. He had strong feelings and ideas, and wanted to know how to convince others to see things as he saw them. Dave, fed up with not getting things done his way, signed up for a course on influencing people. When Dave arrived at the course, the first lesson took him by surprise. The instructor, Chelsea, told him that to be more influential, you had to understand the other person’s perspective. “In short,” Chelsea said at the end of the lesson, “You need to be able to answer this question for the other person: What’s in it for me?”