How to Change Minds at Work

If you want to make an impact you need to be influential. The ability to influence others is not an innate characteristic or personality trait. However, the art of influence is difficult to master and consequently the persuasively influential among us are the most successful and highly prized individuals in society today. Influencers are valued by employers, fellow employees and spouses alike. Here are a number of strategies that can help you hone your powers of influence.

Avoid confrontations. You will fare far better in your interactions with others if you do not contradict, argue, or otherwise try to prove your case. This seems quite contradictory to experience. We live in a world of winner takes all sporting competitions, political elections and adversarial court rooms. However, as soon as you contradict or attack someone you will have a very hard time convincing him to change his mind in any way. Instinctively, for better or worse, everyone is born with a fundamental sense of their own correctness and you do not want to fight against this natural characteristic. Replace 'You are wrong' with 'I can see your point of view' or 'Yes, that is a very valid perspective'. By avoiding confrontation you will increase your chance of changing another person's perspective. Business people are malleable, but when threatened, they will stubbornly stick to almost any position, because they are under threat. This principle extends in many directions. For example, if what you are proposing threatens job security, it will be inherently opposed, until the threatened group understands how this change could positively impact their position.

Ask questions. The more that you learn about a given situation and avoid trying to push your own perspective or view of the world the better off you will be. The reasoning here is that you are looking for common ground, synergy, points of agreement, areas where you will be able to establish tangible mutual benefit.

Replay what you have heard. This is a difficult skill for many people to master. When you hear a perspective, get in the habit of summarizing it back to the individual or group who present it. This does not mean repeating verbatim, which would be very difficult, a rephrasing with many of the original terms in your own words is what is required. This has the effect of helping you to understand the perspectives presented to you and most importantly helping the people around you understand that they are appreciated and understood.

Expand on areas of agreement. Now you begin to add your own perspective. For example, if you are discussing the optimal fee for services, you might say 'your feelings of concern over pricing are something that I completely appreciate. We are living in increasingly 'efficient' times and we all must take care of our budgets. When we examine our overhead, we find that we are extremely far from profligate with our own budgets and with our low overhead we pass an extremely fair price on to our customers. The pricing breaks down as follows...'. If you are doing your listening and questioning well, you will be able to finish with '...and consequently the costs to you will be lower than you could either achieve either with internal or alternative external resources.'

Make use of references as much as possible. Despite your focus on being non-confrontational and listening carefully, until you have earned a substantial degree of trust, you will find that references and third parties will carry weight with those that you influence. Quote people and companies that support your point of view.

Provide an alternative to initial positions. After you have carefully avoided confrontation and provided support from third parties for perspectives similar to your own you will need to provide a new alternative for the person that you are working with. If you are locked into a tense negotiation, this might seem like wishing for a miracle, but keep your mind alert to outcomes that can be presented as new, which allow you to achieve your objectives. If you are in a sales negotiation perhaps you can sell consulting services and training rather than the product out right, if you are negotiating with a prospective spouse, perhaps now is the time to consider where you will set up home as an alternative to the ring purchase, if you are dealing with your boss, perhaps now is the time for a posting to Hawaii as an alternative to promotion. If you are careful with your listening, this new departure can be presented very much as an idea which comes from thin air or ideally not from you but from your colleague. Do not say that an idea is someone else's when this is obviously not the case, you will make people feel manipulated and that is hardly conducive to being influential. However, if you are skillful with your questions and listening an idea can form in your colleagues' mind that will be beneficial to you and you will not have to be directly forceful.

Do not forget the initial steps! It is tempting to leap in with 'I appreciate how you feel, many people have felt that way too, subsequently they have found (etc.)'. However, if you have not established a detailed understanding of the other person's perspective you will rarely be successful with a superficial approach. Most of the time superficial comments will simply annoy the other person and serve to cement his or her attitude. What is most convincing is the sound of their words, the anticipation and sharing of their vision, the fueling of their hopes, made tangible through your joint arrangement.

With practice and application you will become an accomplished influencer. The benefits are extensive!

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