I recently attended the Influence Workout, run by Guy Michaels of Opposite Leg. It was an interesting and tiring day! I think it probably does count as a workout – there wasn’t much ‘sitting down and listening’ time – there was lots of talking and discussion and practising influencing people we’d never met before, which was good because this seems to be what a lot of my job involves at the moment!
It will probably come as no surprise to learn that “truly” listening is the most powerful tool we have when it comes to influencing others. But it’s so hard, isn’t it? I find it very difficult not to spend all the time I should be listening trying to think of the next thing I want to say (or trying not to say it). Also, we did an exercise where we our partner for the task would talk to us about something and we had to keep interrupting them and talking about ourselves in relation to what they were talking about. You know, that thing when you’re talking to someone about you dog with a massive tail (Retriever) and they say “oh yes, I’ve got a Schnauzer and she has massive eyebrows” (or whatever). I do this all the time. I started doing it because I thought it conveyed empathy, but now I think it might just be annoying. Alas.
We did an interesting exercise during which we had to rate our level of influence (a) at home and (b) at work on a scale of one to ten. A lot of people scored themselves more highly for influence at home than at work. I don’t think there was anyone who scored themselves more highly for influence at work; some people weighted both equally. The reason for this exercise was to illustrate the idea of influence being borne out of relationships – we are (unsurprisingly) more likely to be able to influence people we have some sort of prior relationship with; we know how they ‘tick’ and how they are likely to react to things, what their communication preferences are, how they like do get things done, and so on.
Related to this, is the idea of using different styles of communication according to the ‘type’ of person you’re attempting to influence. As we know, there are lots of different ways of categorising people according to personality type (which affects their communication style) (Myers-Briggs, etc.), but for this sessions we used the following matrix:
We had to decide the personality type we thought we were most like (can you guess what mine is?) and then we went into groups and had to pretend to be the type we were least like. We then had to try to influence the other groups/types of people to agree with us on various ridiculous statements, such as “you shouldn’t go to work if you don’t want to go” and “smoking is good for you”. It was quite tricky! We also looked at the idea of balancing the appeal when speaking to groups, as of course these will probably include people of various different ‘types’ (and mixtures of type).
I think one of the most useful things I learned on the day was the idea of a “competence and character” list. The idea is to make a list of your abilities and good character traits – why people should be influenced by you – and then you can refer back to it during times of self-doubt, or just to remind yourself of what you actually know.
We also talked about assumptions – as someone not so famous used to say “assume makes an ass (donkey) out of you and me”.
don’t make assumptions, because you’ll probably end up looking (or at least feeling) stupid.
I should point out that I take issue with donkeys being made equivalent with ‘stupid’, but it was a good opportunity for another picture of cute animals. Anyway, you have been warned. I’m always assuming things, and judging people – it’s not a good trait.
Things not to make assumptions about when trying to influence people:
- levels of knowledge or understanding
- readiness to communicate about a subject
- attitude to the subject
Another aspect of influencing is “communicating congruently”, which sounds posh, but actually just means using open body language. During the part of the workshop we did some physical exercises to change our postures using aspects of the Alexander Technique, which was a lot like exercises we did the next evening at choir rehearsal! I found the techniques really helpful in both contexts: it is really a matter of standing up straight (or your airways are straight, in the case of singing, particularly) [- this made a massive difference at last night’s choir practice – I could easily reach high notes I previously struggled with] and imagining a string on top of your head pulling your head up but tucking your chin in a little bit, so you don’t look too aggressive (!). Also, place your feet about a shoulders’ width apart and relax your shoulders (I always find that hard). It sounds obvious and simple, because it is, but most of the time we (I) stand really badly in a kind of slumpy position. I have scoliosis, which doesn’t help, but I do (even more so) need to make more effort to stand better, especially when singing and presenting.
The final exercise of the day was to discuss with our partner about a situation where we need to influence someone (or a group of people) and then present about this to the group (if we wanted to), explaining how we would use the techniques we learned during the workshop. We used this slide as a memory aid:
I volunteered to talk about my ‘influencing situation’, which was basically to try to influence academic staff to engage with Open Access and the repository (actually only one of many situations where I need to influence people, but it was the easiest to talk about!). Talking about this had an side-benefit in that a member of staff attending the workshop learned more about the repository and where to get help using it!
I struggled with quite a lot of the workout/shop because I was distracted and feeling self-conscious – I don’t really know why. I think perhaps I felt like I needed to impress (influence?!) some of the people attending the workshop, because now I’m working ‘out there’ in the university more visibly I need to build up a good reputation…but of course feeling self-conscious doesn’t usually lead to a better performance! However, I did feel better once I’d talked about my ‘influence situation’ at the end because (I suppose) I was back in my weird presenting dis/comfort zone…and people seemed to like it, which always helps.