By Greg Dearsly (Managing Director, First4Safety limited), and Danny McClure (Solid Waste Operations and Contract Manager, Hastings District Council)
Creating positive and longstanding outcomes can be challenging when you are trying to implement changes in your organisation. This article looks at how to effectively use influence and persuasion when creating change and implementing new initiatives or projects.
Influence or persuasion – that is the question, or is it both depending on the situation? How do individuals in a functioning, effective organisation gain support for initiatives and ideas?
There are a wide range of skills and tools that we all need in our work lives which are not related to our own areas of technical competency and they generally all come under the banner of “leadership”: listening, curiosity, empathy, vulnerability, emotional intelligence, cultural intelligence, and more. These are essential skills and without having some understanding of how to apply and integrate these capabilities into your work, you may struggle to get traction.
Learning how to effectively engage with others and bring them on a journey with you by either influence or persuasion is one of those essential skills, and this article explores some key concepts in this area.
Organisational Growth Expert Margaret Consadine says that “influencing is not persuading, which uses argument to convince others. Influencing is about gaining voluntary support for your ideas; it is about gaining trust in order that others will do want without you having to ask." The aim is to gain voluntary support for the initiative or idea, but how do we do this? In answering this question, we refer to four common components of influence.
Positional Power: We are not all at the top of the hierarchy and therefore we need to find a way of being that leader without the title, or the leader without authority.
Emotion: This is one way to offset that positional power if you do not have a supporting title. This could also be known as passion, and it must include structured and considered communication, to ensure the required outcomes are articulated correctly.
Expertise: You must get this right. Passion and expertise together can at times overpower those with positional power, but expertise without passion generally doesn’t provide the traction required to fully articulate your point to ensure credibility and desired outcomes.
Non-verbal: This final component is key: This is one of the most relatable components, with most people recognising it, that wink, nod, smile, grimace, hand gesture or raised eyebrow. But again, be prepared, you need to be culturally intelligent, in todays globalised workplaces a nod or wink might be ok in your culture but could mean something totally different to a person from a different culture.
If you can harness the power of passion, expertise, and non-verbal skills you will be able to influence others towards collective thinking that drives positive change.
How many times have you left a meeting or interaction with others thinking, “I should have had a better outcome - why didn’t I”?
We can rely too much on our expertise or likeability in our work lives. This can be a mistake people make when speaking or addressing teams, by providing too much formalised information and not enough interpersonal persuasion. It’s best to fully understand your audience, what they are wanting to achieve and the impact of your idea or initiative on their respective work lives.
How can you develop your persuasive repertoire?
The Thomas-Kilmann Instrument Conflict Model looks at the two dimensions of behaviour: your social skills, made up of your non offensive assertiveness and your level of cooperativeness; and interpersonal engagement methods.
The Conflict Model assessment looks at the following five behaviours:
Your level of competitiveness. This is where you are assertive, but uncooperative and you’re only interested in satisfying your own outcomes, being a “win – lose situation”.
Your level of collaboration. Here you are both assertive and cooperative, finding a solution with another party or team, delving into an issue or problem to find underlying and mutual concerns, which can be a “win-win situation.”
Are you open to compromise, finding and achieving middle ground in both assertiveness and cooperativeness? This can mutually acceptable, and you might “split the difference” in agreement, rather than analysing each other’s views to achieve positive outcomes.
Do you seek to avoid conflict, being unassertive and uncooperative? If this is the case, you often do not pursue your own concerns or that of the other party or team, avoid conflict, postpone progress, or withdraw from the situation entirely being disinterested in positive outcomes, in a “lose-lose situation.”
How accommodating are you? You may be unassertive, but more cooperative, potentially giving in to others’ views. This can be a self-sacrifice mechanism and could also be mistaken as generosity or charity, but a real “lose-win situation”.
The assessment highlights that the opposite of being “cooperative” is “competitive” with many people being placed at the competitive end in terms of one’s cultural values, which can be polarising and not always intended, however you must have a starting point if you are communicating with multiple different cultures.
If you are aware of your audience and they lean more towards being cooperative and your style is competitive, how do you get an agreement or buy in to change? Cooperative people will generally establish relationships with individuals or teams before getting on with a task, they communicate to build a rapport and understanding of what is being undertaken and why. Competitive individuals may prefer to focus on the task at hand and communicate data, information, and process.
Whether influence or persuasion is applied when seeking safe and positive outcomes for all, an element of emotional intelligence and understanding of the current environment or team mindset should be applied. This will ensure the wider group, individual or environment you are seeking to apply change or present ideas to fully understands the reasons and the benefits of this and are generally more receptive to that change and the new ideas.
Understanding the cultural diverseness of a group and/or individuals within any given environment is also key to achieving the best outcomes for health, safety, and wellbeing. This will enable the person articulating and presenting change to better understand the needs of the group and/or individuals to achieve the best outcomes.
There are always pitfalls in any application you choose to apply when implementing change, initiatives or ideas. Careful planning is required to better understand the group's mindset and/or individuals you want to influence or persuade. If you want a positive outcome that creates longevity and allows for better processes or practices to stick, you must also strongly believe that this change or initiative has value.