These skills, while described here separately, actually need to be used simultaneously. Additionally using your skills as an adept communicator and reader of people’s intentions and motivations are essential.
An executive in another part of your company, someone you wish to influence, may know little about you, what you do, your abilities, your past experience and what you stand for (your motives). There is one overriding question that must be answered to their satisfaction if any relationship where influence can take place can be established. That question is “are you credible?” In other words, are you believable? To demonstrate credibility consider the following. Do you talk, act and dress in a way that not only represents the image that you wish to portray but that also represents your position and role in the organization? Do you know what you are talking about, say it with confidence, and stand by your facts? Credibility means that I see you as proper, competent, sharing the same beliefs as I and intending to help.
Competence involves behaving in a way that demonstrates that we have the necessary abilities, skills and knowledge to solve common problems. As a successful influencer it is expected that you can relate these characteristics to your intended influence target in a way that respects their context and view. It is not enough to just show that you have expertise. In the sidebar example, my client was considered an expert in his field and had handled complex infrastructure change initiatives before. What he failed to do was relate that experience to what others in the organization believed was applicable to them. While he could eloquently describe the business case for change, he had difficulty describing the skills that he possessed to make his influence targets comfortable with how he would manage the necessary changes in their organization. They didn’t see how his expertise applied to helping them within the context of the organization’s culture.
Commonality refers to finding areas of mutual interests, values or experiences. Our commonality is established when others believe that we use the same basis as they do for the way we do things, the way we judge and the way we relate. Several studies have been done to prove the relationship between commonality and influence results. A simple but startling example of this is from a study conducted at Santa Clara University. The researchers asked a group of women to participate in a study on creativity (the objective was a ruse to ensure that the participants had no clue that the researchers were investigating commonality.) Each woman was asked to empty their pockets and purses and then list all of the uses for the items that were in them. (They had been instructed to include several dollar bills in their purses.) After they had drawn up the list and returned everything back to their purses they left the room. Waiting outside was a researcher playing the role of a donation seeker from a popular not-for-profit. When asked to make a donation many women did, the average that they gave was one dollar. The experiment was then repeated with a new group of women with the same conditions, though this time when the donation seeker confronted them they were wearing a name tag with the same first name as the research participant. If Jane had just left the room, then the donation seeker’s name tag read “Jane”. This time the average donation given by the women was two dollars. It doesn’t take much for commonality to be established!
That experiment was a very simple demonstration of the power of commonality, so imagine how much commonality you can build with those that you work with on an ongoing basis. You have shared and sometimes bonding experiences through day-to-day work life. As you get to know others you discover common interests and beliefs which can also extend to participating in joint activities both in and out of work. Bear in mind that this is a subtle process and one that takes time. At this point, while you may have dreams of getting their support on a project or to obtain resources, that is not your driving agenda. You just want to establish a high degree of comfort with them.
Likeability is a part of commonality. It involves creating a favorable image that causes the person to like you. Likeability refers to the attractiveness (not necessarily beauty) of the influencer, his/her ability to compliment (though not to be ingratiating) and the connections that are made regarding the interests, views and beliefs of the influencer and his/her target. Sometimes sheer closeness, whether geographic (he/she sits in the next office) or based on common tasks and projects is enough to increase likeability. This subtle and nuanced set of skills must be practiced and authentic. In order to do this one needs to be comfortable in one’s own skin and knowledgeable about oneself (see Emotional IQ later in this section.)
Intent describes the purpose or outcome that we would like to achieve when working with someone else. We often use the phrases “good intent” or “bad intent” when describing other’s perceived motives. Here we are focused on helping our influence targets see that our motives are open and honest, and that our purpose is to work on creating a win/win, mutually beneficial relationship. In addition, while we have a task outcome in mind (e.g. helping to get needed resources, supporting a customer presentation etc.) our intent should go beyond that, to helping others see that we are interested, concerned and can help with their problems and challenges. This concept has been strikingly proven by Adam Grant, professor at the Wharton School in a series of experiments. He showed simply that helpfulness begets gratitude.
The ultimate purpose of building credibility, competence, commonality and intent is to accelerate the likelihood that others will trust you. Trust is a necessary condition for influence.