Over the last four years on this blog I have written a great deal about how to influence others, but I have never written about how to respond when other people try to influence you, apart from how to handle the negative politics. The point is that as you become more influential yourself, and more successful, more people will be beating down your door to influence you. How are you going to respond?
The simple and usually the most practical response is to get around to them in your own good time. As an influential person you are very busy, so leave them to work harder at it. This approach also helps to set the hurdle higher and force them to display tenacity, demonstrating that they think it is really important.
Tempting though this may be, it introduces risks. If their direct approach doesn’t seem to be working, they may take their influence attempt underground. Their strategy to get you to say yes is disappearing from sight and become more political, and this may come back to haunt you later.
Instead, I would advocate making it a habit to welcome these influence attempts. Here are a few reasons why this makes sense…
- It can help to grow an increasingly loyal network if you give people attention.
- Opportunities for expanding your sphere of influence will grow without you needing to proactively build it.
- If someone wants to influence you, there could well be an advantage for you too.
- When you have someone looking to gain something from you, they are acknowledging your power and in the process building it further.
- Even if you still say no, the approach can give you deep insight into other areas of the organisation, which may help you in other ways.
- A constructive and open dialogue may limit downstream problems, politicking and vendettas. It will give you a good moment to make forthright and final decisions.
Yet this takes time to handle and time is a precious commodity for you. It is important that you have a clear process that people can begin to rely on…
- Prioritise: Based on your short-term goals and longer term purpose, how important is it to you?
- Personal Agenda: Quickly establish the real reason for their request. What are they looking to gain from your agreement?
- Encourage Honesty: Engage openly with them and discuss the details, pros and cons.
- Decision Process: Agree (or at least explain) how a decision will be made.
- Gain Commitment: Make sure they are bought in to the process and know how to make progress.
- Verify: Take time to verify what they are saying, especially if you are unclear about their personal agenda.
- Manage Expectations: Don’t be vague. Tell them what you plan next and what they can expect from you. Use this as a way of minimising the risks.
- Do a Deal: If they have something that would aid you in your purpose which is not currently on the table, and it is appropriate for you to make a request in return, then now is the optimum time to influence them too. This is collaboration in action although some call it bargaining.
Above all, respect their attempt and desire to do the right thing. Potentially they are putting innovation and opportunity on your desk. This topic reminds me of the old cartoon where the machine gun seller is unable to gain an audience with a medieval crusading knight who is too busy fighting a battle with swords, halberds and the like. That game changing idea may be waiting at your door.