How To Influence People When They Don’t Work For You
As organizations pride themselves on not being hierarchical these days, where you go and how to take direction gets more confusing. Not to mention if your team is remote. You don’t even physically share space with anyone so our reptilian brains really have no idea who to trust.
So how do you garner some influence on a project in this new world?
“So tell me what you want, what you really, really want.”
And you can be sure that it has nothing to do with making your life easier.
Start With The End
Before you cash in your chips, you need to know who to give them to. A good friend passed along a wonderful tip on where to start getting a project off the ground: the end.
Take a clean sheet of paper and write the thank you note you imagine sending out at the end of the project.
- Who went the extra mile?
- Who took a risk?
- Who championed it?
- Who closed the deal?
- Who surprised you?
If you don’t have a specific name, just put in a placeholder or write the department and circle it. This becomes a map for who needs to be involved and where you need to make some inroads.
Ask For Recommendations
In general, I recommend asking your friends at work if they know anybody in such-and-such department. Birds of a feather flock together. Besides, a shared connection has a better chance of landing that get-to-know-you-and-what-you-do coffee.
The other tact would be to start high and hope your request gets filtered down to the right person. This is technically faster than taking the time to build a relationship. But if your project is not core to the business, it’s unlikely a department’s best team members are available to help.
The latter path would probably be best navigated under the wing of your boss or a mentor who can offer some communication suggestions.
Understand WIIF Them
WIIF stands for What’s In It For…Them, Me, Us, and The Company. Understanding (and expressing) what the other person gets out of helping you gets you closer to convincing them that your ask if worth their time.
Some common levers for why people do what people do:
- Professional growth
- Current income
- Future income
- Company culture
- Working conditions
If you already know the person you’re trying to influence, then you can probably guess their motivators. Test this guess by weaving in specific incentives (related to the project) that speak to their interest.
But if you have not met with this person in person at least 5 times, then I would suggest you don’t really know them. Take a step back and…
Authentic influence is only possible if there is a connection between two people. This can be as simple as someone being your boss. But in the case of someone in a different department who doesn’t work for you, you need another leg to stand on.
Many people use their children as starters. It’s humanizing and gives plenty of non-work topics to discuss – which helps build trust: if I like this person personally, then it would be fun to work with them.
If you’re like me and don’t have kids (yet), then carry around pictures of your nieces and nephews. Or pets.
Another strategy is interests: art, theater, movies, television, vacations, staycations, etc. For example, the president of a network once gushed about Giada De Laurentiis at a meeting. I happened to mention this to a colleague who wasn’t there. And guess what that colleague bought him for his birthday?
A signed headshot of Giada.
There’s an urban myth that the animators at a famous studio would draw in hair on a character’s arms so that the “higher ups” would have something to criticize. Telling the animators to remove the hairy arms was an easy fix and made the execs feel like they contributed to the movie’s outcome.
Now you could leave mistakes in your work for your boss to suss out, but I wouldn’t recommend it. Rather just know that people WANT to contribute. Whether you choose to accept the feedback is another story for another time.
The key here is to listen. And muster some energy to welcome the feedback.
What does it feel like when somebody listens to you? Exactly. That’s what most curmudgeons crave. And if you yourself have forgotten what it feels like, there’s a slate of mentors here ready to remind you.
Remember Rome was not built in a day, and neither is influence.
“You can be much more influential if people are not aware of your influence.”