Influence is a Process, Not an Event
Instant oatmeal, same-day deliveries, on-demand video – we don’t like to wait. Our culture doesn’t cultivate patience. So naturally, we expect instant buy-in to our ideas. Instant Influence: If you can bottle that and sell it you’ll become instantly wealthy!
The Big Pitch
You walk into the boss’s office ready to pitch your latest great idea. Convinced he’s going to love it, you passionately lay it all on the table. “That’s interesting”, he casually responds, “but I don’t think we’re going that direction.”
How can he not see the brilliance of your game-changing idea?
Let’s assume for the moment that your idea really is brilliant. Your idea isn’t the problem, it’s your skill at influence that fell short.
The Art of Influence
We love the stories of a big epiphany that everyone immediately recognizes as genius. Because those stories make headlines, we tend to think they’re normal. But in reality, big changes rarely happen that way. Sometimes it’s worth gambling that this will be the exception. But if you always count on winning by using the exception strategy you will, by definition, lose a lot more than you win. So if instant influence is the exception, what’s the more normative approach to effective influence?
A Process, Not an Event
Chances are you didn’t arrive at your big idea instantly either. Many things in your life conspired to get you to that “sudden” inspiration. It’s like the quote, “It took me 30 years to become an overnight success.” Ideas build on previous ideas.
Effective influence starts with recognizing it as a process rather than an event. It may culminate as an event, but other things led up to it. Successful influence involves progressively “moving the needle” until others are ready to get onboard. Here are a few tips for facilitating that process:
- Till the soil before planting the seed. Reveal the process you’ve been going through, raising questions more than announcing your conclusions. Maybe this week you comment that you’ve been thinking about the issue and get stuck on problem X. Next week you mention that X might not be a problem if you could solve Y. Have some dialog and commend them for their ideas rather than always responding with, “I already thought of that.”
- Make it theirs. As mentioned above, give them a chance to weigh in. Let them gain a sense of at least partial ownership in the solution. That makes them want it to work.
- Connect with their values. You may be excited because your solution involves technology you like. They may not care about that, they just want to reduce risk. Whatever they care about is what you focus on.
- Know the downsides better than they do. Anticipate their objections. Perfect solutions are rare, so every solution involves deciding which residual problems you’re going to live with. Be fluent in discussing those residual problems and why you can live with them.
Remember that you’re influencing people, not computers. Good data helps, but you also have to factor in the emotions, values, and other interests of those you want to influence.
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