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Chapter 12

Focus On The Context

Yourself

Wants Versus Needs

At its core, influence is about getting what you want. Even though what you want may be to save the world or at least some small part of it, your goal is still more about you than about the world. So it's best to be very up-front with yourself about what it is that you want and what underlying needs or vested interests getting it would serve. A simple way to do that is to revisit your goal and ask yourself what it represents for you. Asking, "What would achieving this goal do for me?" is a simple way to get at your own motivations for influence. Sometimes by doing so we are clarified and strengthened in our commitment. Sometimes we realize that it is all about ego gratification and, in fact, a facelift or a new sports car would be cheaper. If you are not completely honest with yourself, you could find that getting what you tell yourself you want will not satisfy your underlying need. Honesty with yourself also has the bracing effect of helping you modify unrealistic influence goals, such as making your teenager admit that you are right about his or her hair. (Influencing him or her change the hairdo would be a more realistic goal.)

Strengths and Limitations

Having made a tentative commitment to go ahead and influence, you might as well review how hard you will have to work at it. If you have decided to do something that plays to your strengths (expertise, behavioral skill, reputation, comfort in a relationship), you will probably go ahead right away (if the timing is right). If not - if you have to work with a person with whom you have had tremendous conflict, or use a behavior that is very difficult for you to do with a straight face, or speak knowledgeably about a subject that you nearly flunked in elementary school - consider your options. Perhaps you need more time to prepare and a friend to rehearse with. Maybe you need to find someone to go with you or instead of you (see Chapter 18 on indirect influence). Perhaps you just need to alter your plan off the ideal course enough so that it fits you better.

Style and Blind Spots

Knowing yourself as an influencer can sometimes keep you out of trouble. Do you prefer or need time to think before you speak, or do you do best when you can respond in the moment? Do you like a lot of structure and preparation, or do you prefer to go in with a broad-brush approach? Do you enjoy taking risks by suggesting new ideas, or do you prefer to come in with a well-documented case? Do you enjoy David and Goliath moments (where you play David), or do you try to gain a balance of power before you go in?

Knowing what you prefer as an influencer does not mean that you can - or should - do it your way. In fact, understanding it may keep you from doing it your way when that style would not be appropriate to the situation. Comfort is not one of the common components of influencing. You will need to be wide awake and manage yourself. Blind spots are only blinding when you keep your self unaware of them.

Think about any personal issues you have that are specific to this situation. Are you carrying any baggage about this person that could get in the way of being an effective influencer? Do you have any unfinished business or hidden agenda that you are aware of? If so, think of a way to settle it or set it aside before this influence opportunity. It will interfere with your effectiveness.

Keeping It Light

Nothing will drag you down as an influencer more than your awareness of the heaviness of your responsibility and the serious nature of what you are taking on. The natural fear of failure that we all have will expand, like any clutter, to fit the space available to it. The more important the influence attempt, and the more seriously you take yourself as an influencer, the more likely you are to slip on a banana peel, like the policemen in old silent films. There is a paradox about this business of influence. When we treat it as a sort of "theater game" of skill and chance, where we can move forward and back and sideways and up and down, and maybe have the other players get tangled up in unpredictable ways, we may prevail. When we treat it as a life-and-death drama starring ourselves as the heroes - well, after all those hours spent just in putting on the makeup, it's hard to improvise. Influence is nothing if not improvisational theater. Keep some corner of your mind available to be amused at your own antics and you will always have enough objectivity to allow yourself to take advantage of subtle shifts in the situation.

Readiness, Reluctance, and Risk

Influencing takes energy. (It can also be very energizing.) You will need to decide which goals are worth your effort. Sometimes you will influence to achieve a goal that is personally meaningful to you. Sometimes others will ask or tell you to be influential about something that you don't care about very much - or even something you don't agree with. Sometimes you will be daunted by an important or difficult influence opportunity. Sometimes the opportunity may seem too trivial to bother with. Knowing yourself as an influencer requires you to be ruthlessly honest about your commitment to achieving an influence goal. If you are not committed, you are unlikely to succeed. Most influence goals that are really worth achieving require some risk-taking on the part of the influencer. You will have to take a stand about something that may be unusual, innovative, even unpopular. You may need to communicate with people who have more power than you do or who have the ability to influence your career or your personal well-being for good or ill. You may be a person who prefers to avoid conflict and controversy. Influential people are visible, and the attention you attract may not always be to your liking. Balancing the strength of your commitment with the level of risk you are willing to take to achieve your goal will give you a realistic sense of your readiness to respond to an influence opportunity. If the risk seems too high, you can explore indirect influence options, take other steps to reduce the risk level, or let go of the goal. Any of those options is preferable to making a half-hearted attempt to influence. You won't get the results you want, and you will probably reduce your effectiveness and confidence as an influencer.

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