Have you tried to influence someone lately only to walk away not getting what you went in for?
I was talking about influence with a group of educational consultants last week and I was hearing the same story I’ve heard many more times than I can count: You have a specific request, the person you’re influencing can’t or won’t honor that request, and you walk away frustrated and with nothing.
It doesn’t have to be that way. If this has happened to you recently, there are three things you can do right now as an influencer that will significantly increase your rate of success. All it takes is a little bit of planning – either in your head or on paper.
1. Know What You Want and Why You Want It. Before you head into the discussion and make a pitch, know exactly what you’re asking for and be clear about the reason you want this particular thing.
What you want: If you’re asking to take on Project X, that’s straightforward. It’s specific. But what if you’re asking for a bigger role in the department, or more challenging work assignments? Those types of asks are far less explicit than requesting to head up a project. When your ask is more vague, you’ll need to think ahead and define what you mean by a bigger role in the department, or more challenging work assignments. When you clearly define what you want, you may also discover a number of different ways to get the outcome you’re seeking.
Why you want it: After you clarify what you want, ask yourself, “Why do I want that?” For example, if the reason you want to take on Project X is to get more exposure to senior leadership so that they can see what you’re capable of, then you’ve just defined what’s driving you to ask for Project X. And once you know your drivers, you open the door to the second action you can take to become more influential – lining up alternatives.
2. Line Up Your Alternatives. Consider what highly acceptable alternatives you can live with if you don’t get the specific thing you’re asking for. Take the time to identify what else could fully satisfy what’s driving you – that can give you the face time with senior leadership that you’re seeking. If Project X isn’t something your manager can give you now, what else could you and your manager come up with that could satisfy your driver – that could put you in front of senior management?
Maybe you attend meetings with your manager and present on your area of expertise. Or, maybe you lead an important portion of Project X. When you have alternatives, you’ll find that you’re not so stuck on the one thing you went in asking for. You’ve opened the door to many possibilities.
3. Tailor Your Influence Pitch to the Decision Maker. It doesn’t matter how clear you are on your own wants, drivers, and acceptable alternatives if what you’re pitching does not solve or prevent a problem, improve a difficult situation, or add value in the eyes of the decision maker. Tailoring your pitch to the decision maker is crucial — and overlooking this step is one of the biggest mistakes people make in the influence process. If what you’re pitching is to head up a portion of Project X, you’ll need to show the decision maker how that will solve or prevent a problem that they care about, improve a difficult situation that they care about, or add value to something that they care about.
The next time you’re about to influence someone, keep these three steps in mind. This will up your chances of coming out of the discussion with a win – and that’s what you want.
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