Pay attention — this is not just for women. At the Massachusetts Conference for Women in December, Marian Ruderman (a Director at the Center for Creative Leadership) told delegates that “The ability to influence remains a core leadership competency, and leaders at the executive level must understand that there is a major paradigm shift under way. Moreover, regardless of the organizational setting, society still sends conflicting messages about how women should wield power and influence, making the topic an important one to pay attention to.”
Marian is absolutely right. However, her comments apply equally to all organisational levels and all groups. Her words reminded me of some research I did a few years back that noticed the different level of interest in the topic of influence between men and women. The data suggested that women are far more interested in the topic than men. Yet, looking deeper, I found that this was not because of the gender difference, but instead because women were frequently working in minority situations. This means that anyone working from a minority position is going to have to work harder to influence.
The vital thing to realise is that if you are working from a minority position, you will need to work harder to create the influence you need. Whatever separates you from the majority you need to influence (gender, race, education, attitude, etc.) will have a profound effect on the way others listen to you. And yes, this includes men working in a female dominated organisation. As you are not a fully paid-up member of their group, they are going to find it more difficult to accept your influence. This is an inbuilt subconscious bias which no amount of legislation, political correctness or education is going to completely eradicate. So, get used to it and learn how to handle it more effectively.
If you are working in a minority scenario, here are a few pointers to help you to become more influential:
- Attitude. Start by adjusting your attitude towards the positive challenge this presents. Dangers lurk in resentment and jealousy. If you can overcome these feelings, you are likely to become even more capable than the group members who are getting lazy. Rise to this challenge and you will become even more successful.
- Insight. Secondly, study the group norms and structure. If you can see how it is working, you are far more likely to be able to effectively plan your influencing strategy and overcome the challenge. Become a social scientist for a while and analyse what is really going on. Retaining unhelpful and inaccurate assumptions will drag down your performance.
- Agendas. Next, clarify how what you want will affect the agendas of the key individuals who are opinion formers in the group. Agendas influence the decisions of individual members and affect how they react to your influence attempts. Threatening the shared interests of a group will draw them tighter in defence. And, of course, the personal interests of the core individuals often become the shared interests of the group! Once you know what you are up against, you can determine a good strategy to begin moving things forward.
- Strategy. The final step is to decide on your strategy. You may have noticed I used the term, ‘good strategy’. Naturally, you will aspire to find the ‘best’, however, you will only know if you found it if it worked. Far more important is to get moving and to learn as you go rather than waiting for the best approach to be discovered.
Irrespective of your position, I firmly believe that the ability to influence groups effectively is one of the most useful influencing skills to develop. Why influence one-to-one if you are able to move the masses?
Colin Gautrey is becoming the most sought-after expert in power and influence by ambitious and talented professionals who are serious about accelerating their careers and their results. But, Colin is certainly not for the faint-hearted.
This resource is one of over 500 articles, and 50 hours of video content he has packed into his Breakthrough Influence Series of online courses.