Remember the Bill Murray movie, Groundhog Day? TV weatherman Phil Connors mysteriously relives (over and over) a single day in a small Pennsylvania town — the quirky holiday when a groundhog predicts either an early spring or an extended winter based on whether or not he sees his shadow.
If you haven’t seen the movie, imagine the confusion, anger and boredom that set in when, day after day, Phil wakes up to the same events and same conversations.
Truth is, we often have those “Groundhog Day” moments with our coworkers, CCL’s Kat Pappa points out. “We explain something again and again, or address the same issue over and over — but nothing changes.”
To break the cycle, Pappa says, you need a refresher course on how to influence effectively. “The ability to influence is an important skill, but most people don’t think it through. They get disagreement, resistance or maybe compliance — but what you really want is genuine agreement or buy-in.”
Whether you are trying to influence your boss, your peers or your direct reports, you probably influence others in just one way: the way that you like to be influenced.
“The problem is that if you are consistently using the same kind of influence tactic, then you are missing the boat with most of your audiences,” says Pappa. “The more effective way to be influential is to consider your audience and how they like to receive information. What types of information or ideas would appeal to them? How could you shape your argument or your advocacy accordingly?”
When something that is so crystal clear to you makes no sense to others, you can’t come to any agreement or get traction on an issue. To influence the situation, your point of view needs to be articulated differently so they can come to see what you see.
Pappa advises participants in CCL’s Leadership Development Program (LDP) to become more versatile influencers by taking these four steps:
- Think about your preferred way of influencing and being influenced. Logical appeals are common — we give presentations, work the numbers and share data showing how obvious and reasonable our ideas and conclusions are. But emotion — drawing on the impact a decision may have on others or appealing to shared desires, for example — are important parts of the puzzle for many people. Some are swayed by hierarchy or power, others want to be guided to a conclusion, not “sold.”
- Figure out how to talk about your project or position in multiple ways. It’s about having a variety of tools in your influencing toolkit. If you are only coming up with variations on one type of appeal, ask a trusted colleague, friend or spouse to help you come up with a range of messages.
- Read your audience accurately and respond to what they need. If you are in a one-on-one conversation, tailor your discussion with that person in mind. If you are talking to a group, influence using a couple of tactics or messages. In both cases, you can respond to and steer the conversation based on what seems most valuable or most concerning.
- Ask questions. It’s very human to not know what to do. The way one of your direct reports hears information and is persuaded may feel like a foreign language for you. If you aren’t getting through, ask the other person questions that will help you understand what’s missing for them:Tell me a little bit about where you are stuck on this? What about my idea isn’t making sense to you? What else do you need to know?
Of course, adding variety to your influence style isn’t just for those Groundhog Day conversations. Versatility is essential for influencing others — whether you are trying to convince your boss to go ahead with your idea, persuade a peer to support your solution, or helping a direct report with a performance issue. So before you jump in to make your case, take your audience into account and be prepared.