One of the questions that often comes up when we work with clients, is "how do I get better at this?" The people we work with often already have good influence skills but want to improve further. The simple answer is 'deliberate practice'.
Anders Ericsson has spent decades studying expertise and he found that focused practice where there were clear goals and feedback was obtained on performance, was the key to progression.
So how can this translate to practicing influence? Our perspective is that influence can be broken down into a number of different skills and competencies. Improving any one of those will improve your ability to influence. Improve all of them over a period of time and you will see a significant improvement in your influence. Below are just a few suggestions for skills and areas to work on.
To influence people well you need to understand them first. To get better, start by working with someone who you think you know well and who agrees to work with you to provide feedback. A colleague, friend or family member would be a good option.
Write down from memory what you know about them; What type of of person are they? What do they like and dislike? What are their attitudes and beliefs on things? What motivates them and what do they fear?
Then ask for feedback from that person. What did you get right? What did you get wrong? What did you miss out? Most importantly - Why did you get the results you did?
Then start applying the same process to people you know less well. Here you may not be able to get feedback from the individual but you might be able to get feedback from someone else who knows them. If you are working with a client, you may not want to ask them what their deepest motivations are but one of your colleagues can give an alternative perspective to you and challenge you on your assumptions.
The more you do this, the more it will become natural to consider what is important in specific situations to the individuals you are trying to influence.
In a world apparently short of time, we often see people so desperate to get their message across that they fail to hear from the other person what actually needs to be said. Practicing listening can make it feel more natural not to be the one talking.
Consciously pick a conversation and then focus on actively listening to what the other person is saying. Give them your full attention and try to replace questions with "tell me, explain to me or to describe to me" openings. This encourages a narrative response which you can then focus on listening to. Use minimal encouragers such as head nods and short verbal acknowledgements and see how long you can keep the other person talking without significantly contributing to the conversation. Then identify what was important to the other person in the conversation and play it back to them phrased slightly differently. Observe what response you get and what additional information is given.
Pick less important conversation initially to do this. You can then focus on the conversation rather than whatever the business is. I often practice this with baristas, security guards or my teenage children. It's amazing how much more information I get from daughter with "tell me about your day" rather than "how was your day?"
If you can do this with someone else present they can observe what you are doing and give you feedback. Did you interrupt when you didn't need to? What opportunities did you miss to extend the conversation?
Keep doing this regularly and before you know it, your clients, staff or boss will be telling you exactly what you want to know.
Identifying the emotions at play in a given situation can help us understand what is really going on and allow us to tailor our message appropriately. There are many different ways that we display emotions but our faces really are a window to the soul (and the brain).
If you regularly travel on public transport or spend time in public places, try this as a way of improving your ability to recognise emotions. Wear a pair of headphones and play music at a level that means that you can't hear external sound. Now observe conversations going on around you. Wait until you see an obvious display of emotion and ask yourself what it is. Then turn the volume down and see if what you can hear confirms whether you were right. Although you won't necessarily get 'coached' here on your performance, you will get feedback as to how you are performing and by reflecting on this you will improve.
These are just some of the ways we can consciously practice some of the skills associated with influence. I'm yet to reach Ericsson's 10,000 hours of deliberate practice and I still seek out opportunities to actively improve.
If you have you own ways of doing this then please let us know how you do this.
According to Ericsson's research and logic, the sole reason you aren't a virtuoso violinist, or an Olympic athlete, or another kind of world-class performer, is that you haven't engaged in a process he calls "deliberate practice."