How to increase your influence at work
To Sell Is Human, the book by business and human behaviour guru and bestselling author Daniel Pink, argues that people now spend an incredible 40 percent of their time at work engaged in “non-sales selling”—persuading, influencing and convincing others in ways that don’t involve anyone making a purchase. This highlights the necessity in the modern workplace to hone our communication skills and powers to influence.
What does having influence in the workplace mean? Why do you want it? And how do you get it? We’ll endeavour to answer these questions in this article while also looking into some of the common barriers to acquiring influence.
We all desire a certain amount of influence across various aspects of our lives to feel valued, respected and fulfilled. But before we dive into the different strategies to increase your influence at work and achieve these things, we need to first understand what we mean when we use the term influence in the workplace.
What does having influence at work mean?
There are many different ways in which industry experts define influence. One succinct explanation we like by Connie Wedel, HR Expert and Leadership coach, defines influence at work as “the capacity or power someone has to be a persuasive or compelling force to produce effects on the actions, behaviour or opinions of others.”
When talking about influence, we need to remind ourselves that being influential doesn’t necessarily equate to having a high rank or job title, and is achievable for workers in any position of a business. Anyone can take steps to build their influence at any given point in their career, you just need to be motivated to put in the effort.
Whether you’re wanting more advice to boost your influence or tune-up your leadership skills, the Inkling team is here to help get you on the right path.
What are the benefits of being able to influence people?
Some of the main benefits of earning influence at work include, but are not limited to:
- Feeling valued – your opinions are sought out, heard, impactful and drive action.
- You get stuff done – earning the trust and respect of your colleagues means the projects you care about get prioritised and run smoothly.
- Growth, development and career progression – if you have influence you’ll more than likely be able to acquire and access the tools and resources you need to leverage for further success.
What strategies can you use to increase your influence?
1. Listen up
As the Greek Philosopher, Epictetus said, “we have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.” And, in Dale Carnegie’s famous self-help book, How to Win Friends and Influence People, being an excellent listener is flagged as one of the most important ways to boost your likeability and influence. When it comes to increasing our influence at work we should remember these two wise nuggets of advice.
Research proves the key role listening plays in gaining influence at work. A study by Columbia University surveyed 274 participants about their former work colleagues. Results showed “listening had a positive effect on influence beyond the impact of verbal expression.” Interestingly, being a good listener was positively related to influence for informational and relational reasons. Put simply, listening to your colleagues helps to foster two key building blocks in upping influence: establishing trust and learning new information.
The good news is there are many ways you can refine and improve your listening skills at work. When having conversations with colleagues ensure you’re fully present by setting aside all distractions and minimising interruptions to show that you’re fully engaged and care about what they have to say. We recommend closing your laptop, putting your phone on silent and placing it face down or out of sight so you’re not tempted to check notifications.
Keep your body language open (avoid crossing your arms or turning away) and show your colleagues you’ve listened and understood by asking validating and clarifying questions during the conversation. Such as, “So what you’re saying is…Is that correct?” and “Can you please repeat that? I want to make sure I heard you correctly.” These types of questions will set you apart as a good listener and contribute towards increasing your influence.
You may also like to try mirroring in conversations with colleagues. The mirror is a skill former FBI hostage negotiator and best-selling author Chris Voss swears by to quickly establish your counterpart’s position on the issue being discussed and to gain the upper hand. Mirroring simply involves repeating the last three to five words your counterpart just said using an upward inflection to frame it like a question.
2. Honesty is the best policy
Building influence with your coworkers is next to impossible if some level of trust doesn’t exist between you and them. Only when they trust you will they be open to your influence. One of the best ways to cultivate trust is being honest and transparent in all you do. Share your values, opinions and concerns openly, and don’t keep secrets, your colleagues will respect and value your candour and integrity.
Executive Coach and Professor of Human Behaviour Melody Wilding reminds us that “Being honest is easy when there is good news to share, yet remaining 100% honest when the news is bad can be difficult. The best leaders are transparent in all instances.” So when aiming to increase your influence it’s important to lean into discomfort when it comes to explaining the hard facts to maintain your open and honest reputation.
One strategy Melody suggests if a colleague approaches you with a particularly hairy question is to respond by saying, “I want to be sure to have all the correct information before I answer that. Let me check the facts and get back to you.” So you can go away, take your time and look into it properly, then follow up as soon as possible addressing their question positively and openly.
At Inkling we frequently draw on Brene Brown’s BRAVING framework in thinking about, having discussions and learning about trust. BRAVING stands for Boundaries, Reliability, Accountability, Vault, Integrity, Non-judgement and Generosity. This requires us to look in the mirror and explore our self-trust to be able to foster trust with others. While it can be confronting and challenging at times, building up trust is greatly rewarding.
3. Continuous learning
Another way to earn the respect of your colleagues and increase your influence is by continually taking initiative to further develop your skills and knowledge, and becoming regarded as ‘the expert’ within your organisation and area of expertise.
Regularly attend industry conferences, networking events, seminars, enrol in a virtual leadership course, read books, listen to relevant podcasts, watch YouTube videos and complete additional training and certifications (don’t forget to add these qualifications to your LinkedIn profile).
Don’t keep all your amazing professional development initiatives under wraps. Share pics and event write-ups and reviews to your LinkedIn network. You could potentially blog or vlog about developments or industry news to shine a light on your passion and your high level of expertise. Thanks to your dedication to upskilling and keeping up to date your influence will be heightened as others will seek out your ‘expert’ viewpoint when it comes to the big issues and making decisions.
4. Emotional connection
At the end of the day what good is having all the influence in the world if you don’t have anyone to connect with emotionally in your workplace? You don’t have to be best friends with your colleagues to be influential. But building rapport, being likeable and gaining allies goes a long way towards people being more open to your ideas and influence.
Take a leaf out of vulnerability researcher Brene Brown’s book, and leverage the power of being vulnerable at work. Brene Brown defines vulnerability as “uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure.” Having the courage to be vulnerable with your coworkers is crucial for being present, perceived as an authentic leader and building meaningful relationships.
Some leaders feel the need to distance themselves from subordinates and keep their work and personal lives separate to assert their authority and build influence, where in actual fact, Amy Edmondson’s recent research and our experiences coaching leaders show that the opposite is often more effective.
Put time and energy into actively getting to know your coworkers and connecting with the team on a personal level. Attend staff bonding events, stay back for knock-off drinks, join in coffee breaks and share in water cooler convos (or the digital equivalent like Slack chats or Zoom coffees). By taking these actions, people will respect and remember you as a team player and a genuine person interested in others.
A willingness to discuss your experiences, participate in group activities and share your stories will lead to people seeing you as more approachable and help them understand what drives your decisions, behaviour and values.
Cultivating bonds with other team members makes them feel more inclined to like you, to want to help you out and give you support when you need it, or in other words, will assist greatly towards building influence.
Potential barriers to building influence
Gone are the days of hierarchical office-based workplaces. Many contemporary businesses are now working under agile and flexible arrangements with working from home frequently or full-time remote work becoming increasingly commonplace. Building influence isn’t the easiest task at the best of times but is made even more complex if you don’t interact with the people you want to increase your connection and influence with on the regular.
One way to possibly curtail this could be to set aside frequent casual 15-minute Zoom coffee breaks with different colleagues to ‘check-in’, allow your interpersonal relationships to flourish and learn about each other’s beliefs, knowledge, objectives, attitudes and even frustrations. The more you understand each other, the more likely they’ll support you and hear your ideas out when it comes to the crunch.
Hoping it will just happen
You may assume a common barrier in your quest for influence would be coming off too aggressive or forceful in your approach. But what about the flipside? We find many people passively put their heads down, work really hard, lack self-belief and idly hope someone will offer them that promotion, see them as influential or acknowledge their great work (and put a tiara on their head!), aka are suffering from Tiara Syndrome. Tiara Syndrome is a term coined by Carol Frohlinger and Deborah Kolb in their book Her Place at the Table to describe the way women behave in the workplace and during pay negotiations. Rather than hoping your perceived influence will just happen, actively and intentionally take the steps outlined above to increase your influence, as nobody else can do it for you.
Being afraid to ask for help
Many people fear judgement if they ask coworkers for help or tell themselves “that person is too busy to help me.” so fail to seek out help. But according to Brene Brown’s research asking for help is the top trust-building behaviour between colleagues. So, don’t miss moments to ask for help out of fear. They are great learning opportunities, help to cement bonds in a team, foster trust and connectedness which all will contribute to your ability to garner influence.
We hope these simple yet effective strategies will allow you to confidently work towards increasing your influence in your workplace. We believe your ability to influence is closely tied to job satisfaction, growth and ultimately success, so you must continue to chip away in your efforts to up your influence game.
If you would like to further expand your know-how about how to influence with impact, take a look at our leadership courses or get in touch with us today to discuss how Inkling can design a tailored learning experience to support the development of your team.
Seen something that has struck a chord and you’d like to learn more? Connect with Soph Hampel on LinkedIn and let us know what you think about Influencing in the Workplace.