Sometimes, from the very beginning of a workshop, it is evident that the delegates have a common problem with a big powerful stakeholder. As we start to delve into their influencing objectives, “his” name keeps being mentioned. Round the table with the power cards ― there he is again. Who is this guy to be such a problem for everyone around the table? Why is he being so difficult and making everyone’s life a misery?
On a recent occasion when this happened, one thing I noticed was that his name was being used as a code for “don’t even try to influence”. It was also apparent that there was a great deal of bad feeling in the room towards this character ― even the mere mention of his name. Well actually, for a long time, they wouldn’t even mention his name, somewhat akin to the fear held by elves mentioning the name of the dark lord in Middle-Earth. Something needed to be done.
Troublesome, battle-hardened people exist in most organisations. These high-ranking individuals wield great power and usually do not have the time, or the patience, to let others know where they are coming from or why they are making the decisions they are making. They represent an extremely tough road-block or obstacle. Unfortunately, they are also usually misunderstood and it is this which makes them particularly difficult to handle.
If you (or your team) are plagued by one of these characters, here is a simple and creative process for generating some new thinking — because that’s what you need. Entrenched attitudes cloud reactions, responses, action and influence. With fun and pace, this little process was used spontaneously on the workshop I referred to earlier, and it got them thinking more positively and changed the way they approached he that shall not be named.
Firstly, you’ll need to find a way to call the issue, raise attention to the need for a solution and motivate everyone to explore new ways to understand and work with the stakeholder. Depending on the gravity of the situation, this can take some careful handling. What you need is to get everyone ready, willing and able to have a bit of fun. Here are the bare-bones of what comes next…
- Explain the process.
- Split the group into teams of 3-4 people each.
- Challenge each team to brainstorm their answers to one of the questions below, in just 5 minutes (either put them up on a flipchart, or write them down on cards to hand to the teams).
- Keep doing rounds of 5-minute brainstorming in the teams until you run out of questions.
- Each team then presents back their ideas to each of the questions in turn and a discussion ensues. You may need to focus this where you believe the team will gain the most benefit.
- Pretty soon this will descend into open discussion. That’s okay, just keep encouraging the team to see the world from the stakeholder’s perspective as they talk.
- Return them into teams, challenging them to finalise how they can become more influential with the stakeholder.
If you’re working on your own with this, just have a good chat with yourself — try to keep an open mind, have some fun and jump out of your entrenched views. Not always easy, so why not ask a friend to join you.
You’ll have to judge which of these are most useful for the teams to consider. These are just a start and I am sure you can add more to the list, and perhaps find even better ones. The important thing is that the questions you use will challenge the teams to think differently about the stakeholder you are working on.
- What is Sauron most PROUD of?
- What is he most AFRAID of?*
- Who are his best FRIENDS and why?
- Who are his ENEMIES and why?
- What is his PROFESSIONAL agenda? (i.e. work challenges/objectives)
- What is his PERSONAL agenda? (e.g. empire building, revenge, bonus etc.)
- What might he BRAG about to his friends?
- What is he HIDING from his enemies?
- What MOTIVATES him most?
- What UPSETS him most?
- What keeps him AWAKE at night?*
- Why can he SLEEP well at night?
* Watch out for overlap in your questions, and make sure you give these questions to different teams.
There are probably too many questions in this list above to be practical. It is probably best to limit the questions you use to six. The main thing is to keep the energy up and the ideas flowing, and then start to draw some insight and conclusion.
This is a very simple process. The magic arises in the discussions it provokes. I have used this process and similar ones in many situations. It always gets results. To have some fun, get creative and release those limiting thoughts and find new ways to influence these stakeholders.
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.
Other articles by Colin:
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