The irony of influencing is that if you do it in the right way, people shouldn’t notice it.
Think about it: if you know you are being influenced, does it change your inclination to do something? There are times I’ve realised that during a conversation I go along with something I usually would not agree to. Then, I ask myself why I reacted this way.
Is it because the person asking me is someone whom I care about and so I’m happy to do something to help him? Is it because I can see how I can benefit from it? Or, is it just because the person asked nicely, made me feel good and couldn’t give me a reason to reject him?
I have been influenced in all of those ways, but it is this last method that I consider to be positive influence. Basically, it’s about speaking to someone in his language — using similar words, having a conversation based on things he likes to talk about and mirroring his body language, expressions and energy level. In other words, you are matching his style.
In addition to matching style, it’s about being a conscious communicator — listening to understand, using words carefully and effectively, using the right tone, thinking about your audience and tailoring your message accordingly.
Here are the four basic rules to being an effective and influential communicator:
The best communication tool is the ability to listen, but it is probably the least used when having a conversation. People generally do too much talking and not enough listening.
Hearing is a natural ability for most people but listening is different — people have to consciously do this and actively participate in the conversation to show they are listening and that they understand what is being said.
Repeating what you have heard and saying it back to the speaker in your own words confirms you have listened and understood. It could just be a nod of the head, an empathetic laugh or “mmmmm” or just a couple of words such as “you’re tired” or “That’s tough”.
2. Use your voice effectively
Your voice should support your communication and reinforce the message you are sending. If you are excited about something, your voice should convey that through a slightly higher pitch, lots of modulation and expressive tones.
Similarly, if you convey an important message, the pace will be slower with more downward inflections on important words and a lower tone.
How do you use your voice? Do you consciously think about how to say something — whether you should slow the pace, lower the tone or introduce more upward inflections? Ask yourself: do you actually know how you sound?
A lot of business is carried out over the phone and your voice is sometimes the first thing people experience of you, so you want it to be at its best and to sound appropriate.
3. Know your style
You need to start with yourself — figure out your own communication style first and then gauge how you usually approach conversations and interactions with people.
If you tend to focus on process and information, then your approach will be on the task in hand and completing that. If people and relationships are your focus, then you will want to spend some time getting to know the person and creating excitement about the job to be done.
If you tend to take the lead in most situations, you will approach a conversation as a way to tell someone what they need to do; if your preference is to make considered decisions based on the opinions of others, then you will wait to hear the team’s consensus.
It’s important to remember that there is no better or worse style. You just have a more dominant style that is observable and consistent and this is your preferred style.
4. Know others
Once you are aware of your dominant style, the next step is to understand the style of the person you are talking to. To influence someone, you need to speak his “language”. If I am people-focused, and I am talking to someone who is process- and detail-oriented, then I need to be succinct, stick to the facts and be clear about what I need him to do.
It’s not as important to this person to have a relationship with me, so I should avoid spending too much time at the beginning of the meeting trying to build that relationship.
Morphing into someone else’s style is like going on holiday to another country and adopting their customs and preferences while you are there. You are not fundamentally changing your beliefs or customs, but you are recognising and respecting that there are different styles and ways of communicating.
Taking the time to actively listen to someone, being conscious of how you sound, knowing your own communication style and morphing to others’ styles are at the core of being able to influence positively. Start now, and practice will make perfect.