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5 Tips for Developing Indirect Influence

How do you get people who don’t work for you to work for you? The answer is indirect influence.

You want to change things at your organization. You’re excited. You have an idea. So you attack the problem head-on. Everyone should understand and get in line! They should just do what you say, because it’s clearly the correct way to go!

But then you discover that no one sees the brilliance of your idea. You try harder, but everything continues to get worse. People aren’t responding to you. They’re ducking your meetings. It’s tense around the office.

What went wrong?

You likely made the classic mistake of trying to influence people’s behavior solely through power—by exerting direct influence.

The reality of change is that often you have to get people who don’t work for you to work for you, and that can be hard when you have no authority over them. That’s where indirect influence comes into play. Here are five tips for developing indirect influence that will help your idea for change gain traction.

Listen With Your Ears, Not Your Mouth

When you’re trying to get people on your side, genuine listening provides a valuable gift: engagement. It helps build relationships, ensure understanding and resolve conflicts.

To brush up your listening skills, try:

  • Active listening. Make eye contact, sit facing forward and be attentive by offering regular feedback.
  • Listening without jumping to conclusions. Resist the urge to interject with corrective statements or use a defiant tone. A colleague that feels at ease will share information and feelings more honestly.
  • Avoiding “sentence-grabbing.” You aren’t having a conversation by yourself. Let the other person finish what they have to say—don’t finish for them.
  • Adjusting your pace to match your conversational partner. If you’re a quick talker, it can be a struggle to slow down for a slower communicator, but it will make the other person feel more comfortable.
  • Waiting for a pause to ask clarifying questions. Rather than interrupting, wait for a natural pause, and make sure your questions are only to ensure understanding—not to shift the conversation where you would like it to go.

Increase Your Likability

We like people who like us—and we work harder for people we like. They might sound small, but gestures like smiling, addressing colleagues by their names and saying “good morning” can have a big impact.

Even if you’re not interested in spending time with your colleagues outside of work, take the time to appreciate what they add to the team and establish cordial working relationships.

To increase your likability factor, try to:

  • Leave a handwritten note of congratulations after a promotion or a major milestone.
  • Spend your lunch or coffee breaks with as many different people within your organization as you can.
  • Thank coworkers for their contributions and their help, whether you consider it a part of their job or not.
  • Praise coworkers to other coworkers. Steer clear of office drama by avoiding gossip and negative conversation.
  • Ask a colleague about their weekend and show genuine interest in the answer.

Laugh, and the Whole World Laughs With You

 A 2011 Pennsylvania State University study found that laughing activates the same regions of the brain that light up when you receive a big bonus.

Humor makes you appear calm, approachable and in control. It helps the people you’re talking to feel receptive to change, new ideas and your influence.

If you want to use humor, do so carefully! Try these techniques:

  • Use humor to help soften a hard message and make it easier to speak freely about the topic at hand.
  • Don’t make inside jokes or cultural allusions, both of which are off-putting.
  • Never use humor at the expense of the person you’re trying to influence. The goal is to lighten the conversation, not engage in mockery.

Scratch My Back …

The Rule of Reciprocity (first identified in Robert Cialdini’s 1984 book, “Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion”) is the reason why you feel compelled to support a colleague who went out of their way to help you finish a project.

If you think a coworker would appreciate your help, ask. If you’re offering assistance, do so quietly, away from the rest of the team. And don’t seek credit for what you’re doing. It’s about helping a colleague and cementing that relationship.

If you want to try this technique, you can:

  • Volunteer to help a colleague with slides for a presentation.
  • Share research you’ve done for a past project if it will save one of your colleagues some time.
  • Offer to serve as a sounding board for a teammate practicing for a challenging citizen interaction.

Let Them Eat Cake—or Donuts or Lunch

It’s obvious, but it’s a fact of human nature: We like people who feed us. Whether it’s cake, sandwiches or fruit, food gives your coworkers a boost and creates opportunities to talk to people you wouldn’t otherwise.

Send an email inviting folks (and their teams) to come eat. When people stop by, say hi and chat a bit. If you don’t recognize someone, introduce yourself. Overall—be friendly!

This is probably one of the easiest principles to put into action. After all, who doesn’t like to eat? Here are a few more ideas:

  • Bring in bagels to your early morning meeting.
  • Surprise the team with pizza and soda when everyone is working late.
  • Take a colleague you don’t often see to lunch once a month.

Maya Angelou said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Creating indirect influence boils down to just that: focusing on the positive, thinking of others and giving them your full attention.

You may also be interested in You Don’t Have to Be a Manager to Be a Leader, How Thinking Like a Marketer Can Help You Get Things Done, or Making Your Coworkers Feel Valued

Melissa Henley is a GovLoop Featured Contributor. She is Director of Customer Experience at Laserfiche, an enterprise software company that has served the public and private sectors for over 30 years. Customers are at the heart of all Melissa does, and her passion is around connecting people to content that can have a genuinely positive impact on their lives. Melissa brings over 20 years of marketing experience across multiple industries, including government, finance, and higher education. Read her posts here

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