Consider someone you know who is an influencer or who has, what you believe to be, effective influencing skills. What is it about them that gets you interested, motivated, or even inspired? Are they passionate and dynamic? Perhaps. Confident? Most definitely. Knowledgeable? Certainly.
Are they a leader?
According to John Maxwell, in his book, ‘The 360-Degree Leader: Developing Your Influence from Anywhere in the Organization’,
“leadership is a choice you make, not a place you sit. Anyone can choose to become a leader wherever he is. You can make a difference no matter where you are… You may be able to grant someone a position, but you cannot grant him real leadership. Influence must be earned."
So how do you acquire those admirable influencing traits?
Essentially, at the very basic level, an effective influencer needs passion, knowledge and confidence. And a good influencer has a vision and a plan to execute that vision. He or she is someone who considers the context, boundaries, the impact and then the action required to achieve all that.
Before you can influence someone to a cause or solution, you first need to know the cause and the solution, inside out, and heart and soul. Remember: The more you know, the more confident an influencer you become. And once you know the cause, you need to believe it. Because if you don’t believe the cause, how can you influence others to believe in it?
But even if passion is ingrained, knowledge and confidence takes time to build. And before we get to that, we need to consider the three building blocks that will assist and support any influencer in the journey towards building our knowledge and confidence.
Confidence does not have to be loud. Confidence can also be subtle. And confidence can be gained from applying the elements of listening and curiosity, with empathy. The more you know, the more confident an influencer you become. And the more you practice influencing, the more confident you become.
So let’s explore these three building blocks.
Perception is an important aspect of influencing. After all, if you don’t understand the perspective of the other party, how are you meant to influence them to action the desired outcome? But it’s not enough simply to understand, it’s more important to also empathise. Showing empathy and understanding increases the trust between you and the other party and inspires a mutual respect. By engaging through empathy, you can influence to an outcome you both believe is the right solution, and not simply because it is the best solution for you. And you do this because your name, and therefore your brand, is on the line.
It has been said that there is no greater quality in communications than the humble act of listening. By practising active and empathic listening techniques, you gain valuable insight into the situation and the other party’s position, thereby increasing your knowledge and understanding, and building your confidence.
When listening, apply these simple steps:
- Listen: Hearing isn’t the same as listening. Listening involves taking the time and energy to truly focus on what someone is saying. To listen, you need to give the speaker your full attention and observe their body language. This is about listening with more than your ears, but also with your eyes. It may sound strange, but this valuable step is the first step towards practising empathy.
- Acknowledge: Once you have listened to the person, take time to acknowledge what they have said. Acknowledging what someone has said demonstrates that you have listened to them and are interested in their perspective.
- Explore: Once you have acknowledged what the other person has said, take a couple of minutes to explore the issue. Exploring the issue will ensure that you fully understand all aspects of the situation. It also demonstrates that you care about the problem the other person is experiencing.
- Respond: Once you have enough information, you will be able to respond to the situation by giving your advice, solving the problem together and putting forward your opinions on the situation. Be honest and direct with your response.
Having a curious mind and asking questions is a wonderful thing. But asking the right questions makes you an even better influencer. Why? Because when you ask the right questions, you gain a better perspective of the greater picture, of all the parts involved, and most importantly, of the person you are influencing.
Ask the questions that matter to your stakeholder. By understanding their perspective, you morph it from a one dimensional entity into something three dimensional. Which means you can now spin it around and look at it from all sides. By doing so, you can then provide a solution that pinpoints the issue. By asking purposeful and open questions, you build on your knowledge, which also builds your confidence.
Purposeful and open questions come in various shapes and forms. Here are some examples:
- Open questions: An open-ended question encourages answers that provide detail, such as emotions, thoughts and insight. Open questions allow the respondent to explain and describe.
- Probing questions: The sibling of open questions, probing questions allow you to explore further and delve deeper into issues, situations, or problems. Probing questions ask specifically the ‘how’ or ‘what’ to reach those depths. Probing questions are remarkably helpful when you need specific details and can assist you in pinpointing pain points so that you can better offer a solution or cause, and when you do, it is a targeted solution.
- Reflective questions: These are gold when you need to gain valuable insight into the thoughts, feelings and emotions of an event that has already occurred. These types of questions hold more weight and encourage the respondent to engage a level of self-reflection and emotional investment into the answer. An example of a reflective question really engages the stakeholder, such as ‘how did you feel when...’.
- Hypothetical questions: These are exceptionally helpful to assist the respondent to self coach or visualise the possibility of a different outcome. Hypothetical questions, such as ‘what would you do if…’, are especially supportive in an influencing conversation as they aid in painting a picture or a vision.
- Leading questions: This is perhaps the godfather of all influencing questions and lends itself beautifully to influencing techniques. In that regard, it can be considered a controversial method. A leading question is used when you already know the answer and you want to guide the other party to the desired outcome. Therefore, use this only when you are close to clinching the deal.
Influencing conversations with a positive impact
So we’ve looked at the elements necessary to be an effective influencer. More importantly, these are the building blocks of any effective communication. Start adopting and practising these three attributes, empathy, listening, curiosity, and you will find that your conversations, including your influencing conversations, will begin to have more impact. And the more you practise having these conversations, the more knowledgeable and confident you become to influence positively to an outcome.