Using your influence

A lack of influencing skills is stopping lawyers achieving their goals. Colin Williams reports

A common process when undertaking practice development coaching with law firms is to define exactly what individuals or groups are trying to achieve, identify what is stopping them from attaining these goals and pinpoint how they can overcome the blocks they are experiencing.

Many of the issues that emerge when doing the above may come as no surprise. What may be more surprising is that the root cause of most of these issues is a lack of influencing skills.

Influencing is a complex issue, so where do you start? Experience would suggest the following (remember influencing is a skill, so no points for knowing any of these, but full marks for being able to apply any of them):

Know yourself. Many people lack the fundamental awareness of how they are seen by others and how their personal style differs from others. If you want to shape the way that others think and behave, how can you do this without first being aware of how you think and behave? This does not mean you have to undergo some sort of psychometric test. Just asking a good friend or colleague is a good place to start.

Understand others. Once you have found out a bit more about yourself, then it would be good to start really listening to those you are trying to influence. A sound principle is to try to listen and understand first. This means turning off the ‘filters’ you have that process the information you are being given so that you can match it with your own reality and genuinely trying to understand the views and opinions of others first. Doing this will allow you to see the complete picture as seen by someone else before you start trying to influence or change it. It is always easy to spot the people who are doing this as they are the ones asking a series of open questions.
Recognise that feelings are legitimate. Too often in the workplace, emotions seem to be ignored. In influencing, it is often how someone ‘feels’ about a certain issue that will determine a decision. If you want to test this, think about a time when someone or something influenced you – what happened to your feelings?

Be prepared to challenge. This is the core differentiator in influencing. If you really know and understand the outcomes an individual or organisation is setting out to achieve, and you then identify some behaviours or activities that are incongruent with their desired outcomes, what do you do? You point it out, of course. This challenge is the most valuable act in influencing and builds a tremendous amount of trust in a relationship because it demonstrates that not only do you really understand, but you care enough to do something about it.

Of course, all of these are easier said than done. That is why the true power of influence is not more widespread. Many people approach the job of influencing as, ‘how can I get people to do things the way I know is best?’ as opposed to, ‘how can we find a way of doing things that will work better for us?’. Now that is a challenge.

Colin Williams is a director of W2 Consulting