A Conversation about Influence: Conversation 1
Allan Cohen and B. Kim Barnes
Allan Cohen, Ph.D is the author of many books about leadership and influence, including Influence Without Authority (with David Bradford; Wiley, 3rd edition, 2017). Kim Barnes is the CEO of Barnes & Conti Associates, Inc. and is the author of several books including Exercising Influence: A Guide for Making Things Happen at Work, at Home, and In Your Community (Wiley, 3rd edition, 2015.) Allan and Kim are neighbors, colleagues, and friends as well as fellow Wiley authors.
While we both focus on the topic of influence, we approach it from different backgrounds. This has led to many interesting conversations. We thought it might be useful to share some of them with you. We took several influence situations (borrowed with permission from Barnes & Conti’s Exercising Influence program material) and thought about how we might advise a client to approach them. Here is the first one:
You are responsible for implementing a major change in the way your unit does business. You have just learned that your counterpart has been downplaying the need to change. This is affecting your team’s willingness to take action. Influence your colleague to join you in promoting the change.
Kim: It would be important to take a neutral and curious stance throughout this sequence of interactions. Begin by learning more about your colleague’s concerns about the change. You may be misinterpreting it, so check your understanding first by summarizing what you believe to be the case. (“I understand that the change I am working on doesn’t seem necessary to you.“) Wait to see what your colleague says and if they agree with your understanding of their position. Then ask open-ended questions such as, “What concerns you about the change?” Listen actively to their responses without disagreeing or trying to problem-solve. When the other agrees that you understand their concerns, ask if there is anything you can clarify and do so. Then express your need for their support directly, and ask, “What would you need to be different in order to feel comfortable promoting the change?” If there is a way to incorporate your colleague’s suggestions, do so in order to give them a stake in supporting and promoting it.
I would avoid debating the issues as the project is already underway and your colleague has taken a public position – it would be more effective to help your colleague find a way to support it through identifying ways it can be modified that would maintain its integrity yet allow your colleague to “own” it.
Listening to your colleague in a respectful and appreciative way can create the conditions for your colleague to change their stance. And it’s just possible that they may be able to provide constructive ideas!
Allan: Kim’s comments are sensible from my point of view: I agree; try to find ways to respond to their desired changes that won’t harm the core of the project. Listening to resisters’ concerns makes sense for several reasons:
- Just being invited to offer views and concerns may alleviate anxieties created by the project, including loss of status, devaluing of previously valued skills, loss of important relationships, loss of income, or future prospects.
- They may well know things you should know about what is happening in other areas or at other levels. As Kim suggests, you might even learn something!
- Welcoming comments without instantly arguing with or dismissing them helps keep legitimate observations or concerns from being ignored or rejected out of hand. In this way, you avoid creating defensiveness and greater opposition. Don’t cause extra resistance!
- Sometimes no movement is possible. Better to find that out after sincerely trying to see the value in their opposition. If the change involves downsizing or layoffs, swift (but caring) action is valuable. But after everything else is tried, not in a rush to silence dissent. Future cooperation will be enhanced if removing people is handled sensitively.
Watch for the next iteration of this conversation and feel free to challenge us with your own influence scenarios!
Allan and Kim
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