Influencing skills
By Gemma Morris
20th January 2015

Have you ever felt as if you were hitting roadblocks at work because your ideas weren’t listened to? Maybe you didn’t get budget approval for a project, or your input on process was overlooked? The power of persuasion is an extremely useful tool to have in your professional arsenal, and it’s one that is increasingly in demand among those working in Information Management. Gone are the days when the executive suite wielded all the influence (Power = Influence), as the traditional top-down management model gives way to a more lateral style where Influence = Power.

For data managers and business intelligence specialists, this shift represents an opportunity to get in front of the executive suite, end users and other parts of the enterprise to make a business case for increased investment, or to convince the C-suite of the value of data. And that’s why influencing skills are now so vital. Here are our three secrets for improving your powers of persuasion.

  1. Play to your strengths

Influencing people may have the unsavoury sound of salesmanship, which is not in everyone’s comfort zone. But nothing is more persuasive than a well-reasoned argument from a subject matter expert. Think of yourself more as providing solutions, someone who can explain to people exactly why the organisation needs to sign off on the project or investment you’re proposing. Be impassioned about your idea, and positive in your approach, and you’re halfway there. Most of all, you need to believe in yourself and your strengths first and foremost – that level of confidence is enormously persuasive. To quote the American businessman Jim Rohn, ‘Effective communication is 20% what you know and 80% how you feel about what you know.’

  1. Be creative

Often, data professionals find themselves presenting to non-data people in order to get sign-off on a large expenditure or approval for a new project. This calls for a certain amount of creativity and agility in your communication, requiring you to really think about how your presentation will be perceived by the less technologically inclined. Look for alternative ways to make your case – visuals are always an effective way to get your point across or analogies can be powerful. For more on this topic, read our blog post about how to share data insights here.

  1. Listen

Communication is a two-way street. Listening is every bit as important as speaking, and it should begin well before you go into your presentation or meeting. Influencing skills can happen in everyday interactions, by listening to the concerns or input of co-workers, by engaging with others and showing genuine interest and acceptance in their perspective, and by supporting and promoting their efforts as well.

How language makes a difference

To give one example, a colleague shared this story of how listening better helped her improve her influencing skills. In meetings with her Finance Director, she had a tendency to answer every objection with ‘Yes, but…’ When this was pointed out to her, she realised she was effectively dismissing the input of the Finance Director, which was getting her nowhere. She changed her wording to ‘Yes, and…’ which validated the Finance Director’s opinion then built on it. People want to be heard and made to feel understood, and the more you work on that, the more likely it is you will be heard in turn.

There are lots of great resources on the web for improving your actual presentation skills, but remember that influencing people is about more than just shining in meetings. Be confident in your abilities, be creative in your communications, and be open to others – you’ll find it goes a long way. 

What are your top tips for influencing others at work? What qualities do you find the most persuasive people possess? As always, we love to hear your comments.

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