With so many people trying to influence the senior people in big organisations, it pays to look smart and highly competent. This can pay huge dividends, literally.
The opposite is also true — looking stupid in front of an important audience is like making a gift to your opposition. Here is a short tour through some of the most cringe worthy mistakes made by the unwary. Make sure they don’t let these slip into your next influence attempt, because they will quickly erode your credibility, influence and make your confidence fly out the window.
Speaking the wrong language
Using your own jargon, acronyms and inside jokes rather than tuning into their world. Although the primary language may be the same, you can easily appear worlds apart. You may think that they have the intelligence to figure it out — they probably have. What they lack is time and patience. It may also occur to them that you don’t really understand their situation and haven’t done your homework.
Overselling, not listening, talking too much
Wearing the wrong attitude
People can smell attitude, so make sure you avoid getting this wrong. What are they expecting? Coming across as superior, overconfident, arrogant or defeatist rarely helps make you look smart. And you can also count out petulance, victim mentality and being aloof.
Pretending to be something you are not
Don’t give them the opportunity to wonder if you think they were born yesterday. There is nothing wrong with stretching into new skills and brands, but if you stretch too far, they will not even need to have it corroborated; they will spot it a mile off.
Excessive references to powerful people
You need to truthfully explain who your backers are, but doing this too often and/or exaggerating smarties tantamount to calling on the power of others to do your work for you. If you are lucky, the people you are trying to influence will get bored. At worst, they will realise you are powerless, lacking in confidence and undeserving of their support. You also run the risk they may call them to find out the truth. Either way, you will look stupid.
Any attempt to cover up mistakes is fraught with danger. If something has gone wrong, it is your duty to work with senior colleagues on damage-limitation strategies. I know in some organisations that could get you fired, so be careful — if you’re working in that type of organisation, do something or live with it.
Talking to your agenda, not theirs
This is very easy to do because you will be pre-occupied with your own ideas and how they help you. To be effective, you need to enter their world and articulate your proposal in ways that immediately connect with their priorities. Don’t take the risk that they will be able to figure it out for themselves. And, don’t take the risk that they will think you don’t care about them.
If you say you will do something, do it unless you have a watertight reason not to. Fail to deliver more than a couple of times and they will move their trust to someone else. If asked to commit and you’re unsure, be honest about the risks (of not delivering), share your thinking and demonstrate commitment. This will give you a little wiggle room when reality hits as you leave the meeting.
Stepping into the meeting room without having your facts straight, or without knowing how they may react, counter or object, is plain stupid. It is also insulting.
Ignoring the pitfalls
No proposal is perfect. If you present it as such, it will be incredible or, rather, incredulous. They will not believe it and your trustworthiness is likely to take a severe knock. You need to have enough confidence in your ideas to tackle the downsides head-on in an objective way, while also admitting to your own bias. If you don’t tell them, someone else will.
If you say different things to different people on the same team, why? You need to be careful with this, because when they start to swap notes and notice the differences, your credibility will be damaged.
These are all easy to fall into, but also easy to avoid if you have presence of mind — or a good aide to catch you before it is too late. Okay, changing your attitude may take a bit of hard work if you’re in a bad place right now, but the rest should be easy.
Colin Gautrey is an author, coach, and trainer who specialises in the practical use of power and influence in large organisations. He has 25 years’ experience helping middle/senior professionals to survive, thrive and enjoy their work.
If you are ready to develop your influencing capability, become a member of Breakthrough Influence. If you are serious about becoming highly influential, fast, engage with Colin and he will help you get there in the most effective way possible.
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