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19 Ways to Be More Influential at Work

Take these steps to successfully persuade your boss, colleagues or anyone else

© Getty Images African American businesswoman talking at podium

By Alison Davis, Inc.

Take these steps to successfully persuade your boss, colleagues or anyone else

You probably won't be surprised to learn that you spend a lot of time at work selling your ideas, convincing coworkers to take action and otherwise trying to influence people.

In fact, writes Daniel Pink in To Sell is Human, "we're devoting upward of 40 percent of our time to moving others. And we consider it critical to our professional success."

So you need to practice your persuasion skills. Here are 19 ways to do so:

1. Know your audience. The better you understand the people you need to influence, the more you can address their concerns and appeal to their interests. Ask yourself these questions to gain a clear picture of your audience members:

  • What do they know about your topic--and what do they want to know?
  • What are the key benefits for them? What will they be concerned about?
  • What is their emotional state? Eager? Anxious? Curious? Overwhelmed?
  • What can you tell them that will address their needs?

2. Like your audience. "In any type of persuasion, your listeners have to believe in you as much as your message," writes Chris St. Hilaire in 27 Powers of Persuasion. "Luckily, getting people to like you is easy--if you like them. So you've got to find at least one thing to like about everyone in the room." One way to do so is to flip your perspective: Take the characteristic that's driving you crazy and turn it into a positive. So instead of thinking that a person is stubborn, say to yourself that he/she is resolute. Skeptical becomes careful. Aggressive? He or she is passionate.

3. Manage egos. "You can't persuade until the other person is open to being persuaded," writes St. Hilaire. "To reach this point, you need to make people feel safe and accepted." Start by acknowledging what's going on for people. Say something like, "I know you've been grappling with this issue, which is why I'm here with ideas." And if someone has an idea that's half-baked, instead of challenging the concept, say, "That's a comprehensive strategy. Here's what makes it work. I have some ideas to strengthen the idea even more."

4. Agree on objectives. St. Hilaire notes that a common challenge people have is losing "sight of the goal and getting stuck on the process." They're so deep into their work that they forget what they're trying to achieve. That's why you need to define the goal. "The most effective way to do this is not to announce the goal to the group, but to help everyone decide on it together," writes St. Hilaire. "You want to have the largest possible buy-in from everyone involved, and you get it by having everyone contribute to the goal at the beginning."

5. Establish a need. It's great that you care about your idea or initiative; why should they? Introduce a challenge or issue that needs to be resolved and discuss the ramifications if the need isn't resolved. Then really hit home by describing how the need impacts your audience on a personal level. Make it vivid and believable by telling a story and/or providing facts that help make your case.

6. Be authentic. The personality of communication is often called "voice." Every communication has a voice--from the bureaucratic tone of government reports to the fun, energetic style of Target ads. That's why the best way to engage your audience is to uncover your authentic voice and let your wonderful personality come through. That's how you become truly persuasive--by putting yourself into your communication so that your audience can recognize and relate to you.

7. Paint a picture. The old saying, "A picture is worth a thousand words," is especially true in persuasion. Use pictures, diagrams and images to create meaning around your concepts. People will grasp your message much faster when they see a two- or three-dimensional image. Visuals also support recall ("I can picture it" helps people remember).

8. Focus your message. Don't include the whole kitchen sink; it will only overwhelm people. Instead, focus your message to a few key points. Ask yourself, "What are the most important things I need people to know?"

9. Adapt your style for the people you need to persuade. To increase your influence, make your message meaningful. That means avoiding the use of technical jargon or "corporate speak," which causes boredom and confusion. People don't have the time to crack open a dictionary or consult their list of acronyms every time you talk. So use words everyone understands.

10. Emphasize the benefits. One of the ultimate goals of persuasion is to get people to think and act a certain way. People don't just ask, "What should I do?" but "Why should I do it?" Be sure you communicate the WIIFM (What's In It For Me) to the people you're trying to persuade. 

11. Make facts your friends. Make sure you have the facts to back up your claims. A snazzy set-up might catch people's interest but convincing them to adopt your position takes solid evidence. Start with this premise: Facts don't speak for themselves. No matter how well researched your concept is, you need to remember that you're selling your idea to people (Yes, leaders are, in fact, humans.) who have anxieties and aspirations that influence their perceptions.

12. Tell a story. As Timothy C. Brock and Melanie C. Green write in Persuasion: Psychological Insights and Perspectives, "Narratives--from novels to sitcoms--pervade our lives and can affect what we believe about topics as sweeping as historical events or as personal as safe sex. Indeed, stories do not even have to be true to affect us; fictional narratives appear to have the same power as do factual ones. When people become transported into a narrative world, their emotional responses and their creation of vivid mental images of characters and settings influence their beliefs and behaviors."

13. Help people trip over the truth. "To trip is to catch one's foot on something and stumble," write Chip and Dan Heath in The Power of Moments. "To trip over the truth is to catch one's brain on something and struggle." The recipe for helping people trip over the truth: clear insights, compressed in time and discovered by the audience itself provides a blueprint. To create the moment, advise the Heaths, "dramatize the problems . . . Once those problems become vivid in the minds of the audience members, their thoughts immediately turn to . . . solutions."

14. Connect emotionally. Expressing emotions increases your credibility by demonstrating your willingness to be open. Say, "This project is very important to me.Nothing would make me prouder than meeting all our objectives within the deadline."

15. Ask questions. It's a great way to build two-way dialogue. Better yet, it gives you an opportunity to identify people's needs and values so you can craft a persuasive message. Your question can be as simple as "How are things going?" or "How's your job been lately?"

16. Listen. Effective listening increases your power to persuade. After all, no one has ever listened himself or herself out of a sale, but many have talked themselves out of one. The quickest way to increase your credibility and likeability is through effective listening.

17. Welcome input. Demonstrate that you value all ideas. Encourage people to share their points of view and listen with an open mind. People will be more accepting of your ideas if you take the time to understand their views. 

18. Propose a solution. Now that you've got them on the edge of their seats by getting their attention and establishing a problem, here's your golden opportunity to provide the solution. Focus on the WIIFMs (What's In It For Me) by describing how each individual will benefit. Draw from past experiences to describe situations where a similar approach was successful.

19. Call for action. As they say in Hollywood, time for the boffo finish. Summarize your message by reviewing steps one through four. Don't assume because people are not disagreeing that they've agreed, so ask for their support. Demonstrate your own commitment by outlining the steps you are taking to implement the plan. And, finally, issue a call to action by telling people what they need to do to make the vision a reality.

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Career Magazine: 19 Ways to Be More Influential at Work
19 Ways to Be More Influential at Work
Take these steps to successfully persuade your boss, colleagues or anyone else
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