Often, influence is seen as undue power, as plotting behind others’ backs and making people fight each other for the sake of personal gain.
That’s not influence. That’s politicking, an unwelcome addition to corporate culture that should be eliminated before it ruins the workplace.
Influence is a quality of a person recognized and accepted by others. The true influence of a person is valued by every team member because this person has powers to solve problems that others can’t, and even without formal authority the word of such an influential person is taken as a command for immediate action. It is good to have an influencer on your side no matter what. But how to get this influence? Is it an inborn capacity, or can it be acquired through training?
The good thing is that influence is a skill to be learned. A good influence skills training will teach you the basics of theory (what influence consists of) and let you implement them in practice in role games (how to do it right).
So, what basic actions will let you gain influence among coworkers?
You cannot influence others if your words (or actions) cost nothing. Influencing others is not a task of one day (or even week). It takes months to build the reputation of a trusted reliable person whose words have weight.
Trust is a quality of a person who does not plot behind people’s backs, shares thoughts openly (but politely) and is known as a safe haven for everyone. If people can trust you, they will more readily provide assistance or oblige you in return. So mind that cultivating your own trustworthiness (and expertise in what you do) is the pillar of influencing others.
Consistency and reliability
As mentioned, influence is not acquired overnight (with very few exceptions). Being a reliable person means that you practice the trust-inducing behavior consistently, day by day. You should stick to your word all the time, you should behave ethically (or friendly, or whatever your approach is) day by day. If you are a manager, you should set consistent tasks, and if you decide to reward over-performing, do it regularly. This is how trust is built and people come to see you as a benchmark, a reference point to align with.
Assured/confident, not aggressive
Very often influence is associated with aggressive and openly rude behavior. No way. The easiest way to insult people and make them oppose you (even silently) is to be rude or condescending. You definitely have a say in your trade if you are an expert, so present your words politely but confidently.
After all, you are an expert or the author of an idea of how to make something work. But if you adopt this confident talk, use it with every rank you talk to, be it your boss or a mail delivery person. Being assertive with assumed inferiors and servile with superiors is a path leading away from influence among colleagues.
Flexible/open to compromise
This point does not contradict the previous one. Assertiveness is good in aspects where you are 100% sure of what you say. But looking for compromises that make your ideas or tasks more palatable for others is essential. While you know what is right, others may have great ideas on how to implement this ‘right stuff’ in real life. Work together with others, so that they did not see you as a stubborn person who regards everyone else as incapable or unprofessional.
It is not about building friendships with everyone around – it is impossible and unnecessary. But knowing people you work with, or who report to you, is a key to true influence. Knowing is not about digging into their background, it is seeing them as personalities with individual modes of communication. And you, as a colleague or a boss, should be (at least look) the same: humane, not perfect, friendly, accepting minor errors of others as you would your own. Being an approachable person is another clue to influencing. But approachable does not mean a milk-toast, either.
Lead with actions, not words
Re-read the first two points about trust and reliability. Trust and reliability are earned through actions, not empty talk. Practice what you preach and stand by your word. Do what you promise, provide accurate information if asked for consultations, and be there for people if you offer your help.
To say ‘work hard and people will trust you’ is a bit misleading, since many hard-working employees spend their days taken for granted and are never seen as role models. Working hard while networking actively, as well as speaking out when necessary and treating people fairly, is what actually makes you an influencer.
Listen to people and hear them
A skill that is applicable to any point from above. Whether you get to know your team, or speak assertively, or compromise, or do the networking thing, be a good listener. Hear what people tell you, not assume, but listen attentively. Thus, you will gain lots of valuable info without ever needing to eavesdrop or collect gossips. You will also show that you truly value your interlocutor. And active listening is a skill you can start practicing right away.