To paraphrase the Cheshire cat in Alice in Wonderland, if you don't know where you're going, any road will get you there. Often, the greatest distinction between the person who comes away from a meeting with a good result and the one who is disappointed is that the first person was clear about what he or she wanted before the meeting began. Being aware of your goal and consciously working toward achieving it takes time and energy, but is usually considerably more effective than improvisational advocacy. So . . . the first step in planning how you are going to influence another person or group is to frame a goal.
I have spent many difficult hours, both as a consultant and as a member of the organization, sitting in meetings and imagining what someone from another, more logical planet, might assume were the influence goals of the participants.
Judging from the behavior used (such as sarcasm, put-downs, and direct attacks), it might seem that they were trying to do some or all of the following:
If asked, of course, the participants would probably say that their goal was to influence the others to agree with and implement a suggestion or proposal. However, they did not behave as if they were attempting to move the others in that direction - or else they would have noticed that everything they were doing was fixing the others more firmly in their own positions and increasing their resistance. Being clear in advance on what you hope to accomplish can help you avoid these meetings from hell and achieve the result that you really want. Making your underlying intentions conscious enables you to decide whether or not your current influence goal is one you really want to achieve.
Having a conscious goal is risky; it raises common human fears of failure and of alienating others who may see us as too aggressive. If we don't make a commitment to influence, we have the luxury of blaming others when we don't like the results of decisions that might have been within our sphere of influence. No amount of sophisticated understanding or practice of influence behaviors will make up for the reluctance to commit to an influence goal. Deciding that a result is unattainable before you give it a fair shot may create short-term comfort, but leads to longer-term disappointment in yourself and in your life.
You will learn the most from this section of the book by creating an influence plan for a situation you have identified as important to your own success and well-being. In Appendix B, you will find a template for a complete influence plan. I suggest that you try using the template or modifying it to include issues that are important to you and to exclude ones that seem irrelevant. Use it to plan for an important, upcoming influence opportunity at work, at home, or in your community. After you have implemented your plan, regardless of the outcome, make notes on what worked, what did not, and what you learned. This is a discipline that will help you to grow and improve as an influencer. Try to make new mistakes each time, rather than repeating the same old ones. If you never make any mistakes, you are probably not taking enough risk and not doing much influencing.
Your influence goal provides the motivation to succeed . . . so it should be attractive enough to be worth the effort, yet achievable enough to keep you from giving up too easily. I remember a high school acquaintance who attempted to prove that God did not exist by praying that the Deity would cause a light switch to fly around the room (the word "sophomoric" has useful layers of meaning in this case). Someone else remarked that he assumed any self-respecting God would have better things to do with his or her time and that he assumed the would-be atheist did also. So it is with influence goals: they should be worthy both of your time and of the efforts of the being you are hoping to influence.
Influence goals are different from other goals that you set, in that they must be realized within a short and specific time frame. It won't help you to be a powerful influencer if you have to wait several weeks to see whether your behavior has achieved any results. You need to know at the time you are influencing whether what you are doing is moving you toward your goal. This will help you know whether and when you need to change or rethink your approach.
Your influence goal should be clear to you, not vague and amorphous. Ideally, it should be one that would be understood both by you and by the other party if you were to state it directly, using tell behaviors. "I would like to influence my teammate to use the new software program" is clearer than "I would like to influence him to upgrade."
Figure 8.1 is a useful set of criteria to test whether an influence goal will be effective. Rather than giving up on an influence result that may seem, at first, to be unattainable, use the criteria to sharpen and improve your goal. For convenience, they are summarized by the acronym, FOCUS.
Being aware of the need that underlies your influence goal will enable you to be flexible and alert for opportunities. Through the use of receptive influence, you may become aware of alternative ways of meeting your needs that might be of more value to you or less difficult for the other person to provide. Knowing when to shift to an alternate means of need satisfaction ensures that you will have fewer failures as an influencer. Being flexible enables you to frame your goal in a way that has a realistic chance of leading you toward success. Your influence goal should be specific enough about ends to make sure your needs are met, while being flexible enough to allow for alternative means. Specificity refers to dates, times, amounts, and so forth, and ensures that you do not settle for something that does not go far enough toward meeting your needs. It gives you criteria to test whether or not an alternative result can work for you. An example of a goal that is both flexible enough and specific enough might be, "to have the vestry commit today to selecting the new minister by September 30." This goal leaves room for a variety of solutions about how the selection will be made, but is firm about when.
Your influence goal should be designed so that you will be able to observe, during the influence opportunity, whether you are moving closer to it or further away. This will enable you to adjust or adapt your behavior appropriately. For example, the goal "to get my manager to change her mind about my project" is not observable. If, instead, you stated it, "to get my manager to make a commitment to funding my project," you would know whether you are moving closer to or further from the result you wish to achieve.
Your influence goal should be optimistic - possible, but a stretch - so that the effort you put forth to achieve it will seem worthwhile to you. Attempting to achieve an important influence goal always requires a degree of risk, if only of disappointing yourself, and thus is an act of courage. "I want to influence my manager to commit $10K to do an exploratory project" is more courageous than "I want to influence my manager to agree to let me spend a day working on the proposal."
We sometimes set up influence goals that will not meet our most important needs. For example, "to have my spouse admit that he or she was wrong about the old contractor" would not be as useful as a goal that states: "to get my spouse's commitment to hire the new contractor I have found." It is helpful to question yourself about whether your influence goals meet short-term ego needs (which almost always will have a negative impact on the influence relationship) or will lead to longer-term, more important results. Of course, there are times when meeting the shorter-term need might really be more important to you, but with the recognition that you may go down with the ship you just sank. A business colleague used to ask me, "Do you want to be right, or do you want to get the result you want?" Make sure your goals are not only useful, but also optimistic enough to be worth pursuing.
Although influence goals are short-term, they need to be aligned with longer-term strategic goals in order to be effective. If you align your influence goals with the larger goal you hope to achieve, you will avoid being at cross-purposes with yourself, your organization, or your family and thus minimize the resistance to your idea or suggestion. For example, if your long-term goal is to work abroad, you will want to make sure that you don't set an influence goal for your manager to assign you to a long-lasting project that will keep you close to the home office.
Testing your goal statement against some or all of these criteria will lead you to sharpen and improve it so that it becomes a powerful tool for influencing. An influence goal that meets these criteria can be ambitious and optimistic, yet realistic and attainable.
Something that clearly distinguishes successful influencers and leaders from others is that they are persistent in the pursuit of their influence goals. They do not take "no" for an answer very easily. They tend to know when to back off and wait for another opportunity or be sensitive to when they should change their approach and tactics and try again.
Persistence helps in several ways. First of all, you may have been mistaken or be missing some data in your original analysis of the framework for influence. Thus, your timing could be wrong or you might need to do some preliminary work on the relationship to prepare for another influence attempt. Giving up too easily does not allow you to explore these possibilities.
Secondly, the fact that you are persistent (without being inappropriately aggressive) lends power to your influence attempts. Caring about an issue deeply enough to continue to bring it to others' attention demonstrates the strength of your commitment. One member of my staff used to greet me with a cheerful, "I'm baaaack!" before he launched into another pitch for something he believed to be important. He knew that eventually his persistence would pay off, although he might have had to be flexible about his approach and about specifics such as timing and cost. He would often make several strategic retreats and try again before I was sufficiently worn down to agree - but his success rate was high, and I was not put off by his efforts.