Mentor Minute: How to become a person of influence

Globe and Mail, Tuesday, Oct. 12, 2010

The scenario

I have plenty of professional expertise to share, but find that as an independent contributor at work, my ability to influence and persuade is wanting. I’m frustrated and irritated that people aren’t heeding my advice, and I know I can be brusque and sarcastic as a result. How do I capture the ears of others and calm my frustration? How do I elevate my ability to persuade and influence, without positional authority?

The advice

It’s frustrating to know what you know, yet not have the “higher ups” attention. Having the right wisdom is essential, but isn’t a guarantee of being acknowledged. While influence is often a top-down phenomenon, you can learn skills and strategies for persuading upward. All it takes is mindfulness, desire and practice. Although circumstances and others may be the source of your frustration, start by examining “your own side of the street.”

Mind your words

Do your words hinder your ability to influence? What’s your part in strained situations? If negative words can elicit conflict, then positive alternatives can yield the opposite. Without editing every thought and sacrificing authenticity, get your brain operating three seconds faster than your mouth – give yourself time to backfill negative words with positive options that still communicate your message. For every negative style of expressing, there’s an equal and opposite positive alternative that still gets the message across. For example, next time you want to say, “You’re totally missing my point,” instead say: “Let me rephrase that” or, “I need to be clearer.”

Resist defensiveness

Defensiveness is understandable when you feel dismissed or disregarded. But if you respect others and still feel overlooked, one way to reduce your frustration, and perhaps win your point, is to step back and listen carefully to their perspective, and understand why they’re doing what they’re doing.

Be persistent, but pleasant

If at first you don’t succeed … People sometimes need to hear the same idea several times before the “aha!” occurs. If you know your position is correct, try, try again, with plans B, C, and even D. Pleasant persistence allows others to experience how committed you are to your view, and helps them reconsider their contrasting opinion.

Showcase your abilities

Make use of the many methods available to share your ideas, whether electronic or personal. For example, volunteer for conferences and projects; even if your efforts end up making others look good, there’s still a positive payoff for you. Offer summaries of what you’ve learned that could help move your organization forward.

Nina Spencer is a Toronto-based speaker, workshop facilitator and author of Getting Passion Out of Your Profession.

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