Most effective influencers tend to think about and plan for influence opportunities. The good thing about planning is that you go into the situation with greater confidence because you are much clearer about where you are headed and what to anticipate along the way. This is also a bad thing about planning, since it can give you a false sense of security and may lead you to ignore things that don't happen according to your plan - or a sinking feeling when you have an excessively rigid plan and the other person isn't following it. However, if you manage yourself reasonably well, you will keep some part of your mind alert for disconfirming data. (For example, you are trying to persuade a senior person in the organization to sponsor an innovative idea and he or she seems distracted and allows interruptions to your meeting. Or your spouse, instead of being enthusiastic about your new job opportunity overseas, suggests that it might be time to try a bi-continental relationship.)
Planning can occur at many levels. At the most basic level, it means framing your influence goal before you open your mouth to start influencing. This is a good habit to adopt, especially when the opportunity or the need to influence arises unexpectedly. If you have time to plan more carefully, you will want to think through the influence framework as it relates to your particular influence opportunity. And, if you have an important opportunity, you will probably want to devise a thorough plan that is based on the issues you have explored. This will take time, but will pay off in effectiveness and efficiency in achieving good results.
Just as developing your influence skills can be compared to a fitness program, planning for a specific influence situation can be compared to preparing for a journey. As in adventure travel, you need to be in shape before you start; halfway up the mountain is not the place to develop your climbing skills!
Each of the components of the influence framework for your opportunity contains key information that will help you succeed or keep you from making serious errors. In the following chapters, each of those is discussed. In Appendix B, you will find useful questions related to each component as a stimulus to your thinking. Not all of them will be relevant to your opportunity, and you may think of others that are more useful. This part of the exercise is not particularly sequential, although it helps to start with your goal. You may find that, as you work back and forth, you will have some insights that will change your original ideas. Once you have integrated this framework into your influence approach, you will find it a useful and quick mental exercise, even in more spontaneous situations.
You have explored the issues in the influence framework. Now you will decide on your approach. Here are some steps you can take in this process:
Think about everything that could derail your plan. Do some "if . . . then" contingency planning. What will you do if the worst case occurs? Consider also the possibility that you may be wildly successful and may have aimed too low. How can you adjust your aspirations upward during the meeting? Think of some alternate sources of need satisfaction if this influence opportunity simply doesn't work out as you intended.
Of course, it is difficult to focus on the downside when you are trying to be optimistic. A certain amount of "magical thinking" may set in, leading you to ignore possibilities that you don't want to believe could happen. (Magical thinking is the process we use to ignore the elephant under the rug, thinking that if we don't acknowledge it, perhaps it will go away.) By remembering to take this step before you are in the situation, you will be prepared for most eventualities and less likely to be distracted from your goal by an unexpected response. The more important the situation, the more useful it is to consider multiple possible responses and plan how to deal with the ones that will have the most impact on your results.