I can think of a million ways to “fix” other people around me. They’re just all so messed up, aren’t they?
Here’s the brutal truth: That’s not the way the universe works. You don’t get to “fix” them.
After I get over the disappointment from that statement, now what can I do? How do I keep myself from just being a victim of circumstances, a slave to my situation?
Here’s the secret: I have considerable influence over the people in my life.
Maybe that doesn’t sound like a big deal, but it is. What it means is that if I want to make a difference in other peoples’ behavior, I first have to take responsibility for my own. I have to work to influence others, which isn’t a simple process.
Influence Isn’t Just a Nice Word for Control
Influencing is actually a much different concept than controlling, because it’s based on a cooperation of individuals, leading to a desire to change. With control, desire doesn’t really enter into the picture.
Let’s say that I want to influence you to leave some kind words in the comment section of this blog, something which will let me know whether you’re getting value from this page. I have absolutely no control over whether you do that, and in fact you may have left the page before the end of this sentence.
What I can do, though, is to show you why it might be valuable to you to leave comments. I can’t give you money or guarantee fame. So perhaps I can appeal to your vanity, giving you a place to see your name printed on a website. More powerful than that might be to explain how this creates a conversation where I can respond to what you say as you respond to my words.
Perhaps even more interesting is how a conversation on a blog like this creates a community of people who can all be helping each other to learn about an interesting concept like exerting influence.
You can see the thought process I was using there:
- Be straightforward about what I’m asking from you
- Explain or show how that can have value to you
- Giving you an easy way to say “yes” to the request, to remove obstacles
Let’s say that I’d like to ask my boss for a change in job assignments. I have relatively little power in this situation, but certainly do have influence. So first I can be clear what I’m asking for: “I’d like to talk with you about the possibilities of shifting my job responsibilities.” Then I have some well-articulated ways to show value: “If we can do this, not only will I be more productive in my job, but also I’ll become much more valuable to the organization in the long term.” Finally, I remove obstacles: “I would work with you on creating the set of responsibilities which are most valuable to the group and where I could make the best contributions, and I will work with you to phase this in over a period of 3 months so that the others on the team are impacted the least. I’ll spend extra effort to cross-train people to take over my current job.”
Depending on the situation, this may or may not work. Anything truly valuable in life isn’t a sure thing. But what I’ve done is opened up a conversation with my boss where I’ve demonstrated professionalism, a desire to give benefit to her and the larger organization, and flexibility.
Thinking through the conversation is the first step to having influence.
As a footnote, I’ll mention that I’ve used this exact strategy three times in my career to create jobs which were customized to my own abilities and interests, making a deep difference to the larger organization. But each time, it took between 3 and 9 months to get through the process. It takes considerable focus and determination.
by Carl Dierschow