This article was originally posted by Rebecca Knight for the Harvard Business Review on February 16, 2018.
To be effective in organisations today, you must have a high level of workplace influence. Your title alone isn’t always enough to sway others, nor do you always have a formal position. So, what’s the best way to position yourself as an informal leader? How do you motivate colleagues to support your initiatives and adopt your ideas? How can you become a go-to person that others look to for guidance and expert advice?
What the Experts Say
Having workplace influence has “clear value,” says Dorie Clark, author of Entrepreneurial You. “You get more done and you advance the projects you care about and are responsible for,” which means “you’re more likely to be noticed, get promoted, and receive raises.” But gaining influence in the modern workplace is difficult, according to Nick Morgan, author of Power Cues. “It’s never been harder to influence others, because they’ve never been more distracted,” he says. “Information overload and the pace of our digital lives have [led to short attention spans].” And yet, “it’s more important than ever to be able to command influence, because of the increased pressure on getting results.” It all comes down to your approach. Here are some tips.
It’s not quite a junior high school popularity contest, but “at a fundamental level, one of the reasons that people do things for you” — support your idea, or approve your budget — “is because they like you,” Clark says. You don’t have to be “the awesome-est person in the room” or make sure “everyone is blown away by your charisma.” You just need to have good rapport with your colleagues. This won’t translate directly into influence, of course, but it does “make it more likely that others will at least hear you out.” So, work on cultivating personal connections with your colleagues, and allow them to get to know you. “That way, they won’t impute negative intentions or motives to you.”
Listen before you try to persuade
The best way to prime colleagues for backing you and your agenda is to make them feel heard. Start by giving them your undivided attention in one-on-one situations. “Most of us walk around with a running to-do list in our heads,” Morgan says, and it shows. We’re fidgety, preoccupied, or ready to reach for our phones. Instead, you should “practice the discipline of focus.” To do this, “turn your body toward the other person, freeze in place, and listen.” Clark agrees: “A big part of workplace resentment is people feeling disrespected and that their voices aren’t being heard.” So, ask colleagues for their perspectives and advice.