Imagine that you need additional resources to finish your project on time. Or you’re lobbying to get your choice in a procurement process. Or you want the design of a new product to go a certain way. You need to influence the outcome of a decision and you think to yourself “I’ve got this one!” But do you? More often than not, I see people make mistakes that thwart their attempts to persuade their bosses, their coworkers, and their customers. It’s time to get serious about these influence mistakes.
Mistake #1: You over-weight the facts
Surely, if you have enough charts and graphs, your audience will be sold on your point of view…right? Well, not likely. Human decision making is far less logical than you think. The person you’re influencing is trying to make a decision he is comfortable with; and that’s an emotional decision not a rational one. Yes, you need data and facts, but those facts need to be targeted directly at creating the emotional backing for your desired outcome.
You need facts that increase excitement about the possibility and facts that decrease fear, anxiety, and perceptions of risk. Think about what the person values most and choose facts that connect your plan with those things. If you’re trying to secure additional resources to get your project done on time and you know the person is highly competitive, aim your facts at the market impact of speed. “If I get three engineers seconded to this project for a month, we’ll get this out the door six weeks before the other guys.”
The person you’re trying to persuade is making an emotional decision and then using facts to support his choice. Give him the data to make him feel good about how he feels.
Mistake #2: You try to persuade people with whom you have no credibility
Just your luck! The decision maker on the procurement process is the woman who always treats you like you’re a mail clerk rather than a senior manager. Good luck persuading her that the new vendor would be way more responsive than the incumbent. You give it the old college try, but she’s having no part of it. She’s not even listening to the facts you’re presenting.
You’re making a common but costly mistake by trying to influence someone who doesn’t respect you. In situations where your credibility is low, it can be much more effective to ask someone else to do the heavy lifting for you. Find someone who respects you and also has clout with the decision maker. Enlist that person to help you get your ideas across. You’ll find that exactly the same points coming from a different mouth will resonate much better.
Mistake #3: You start at the end not the beginning
You’ve done your homework and built the most visually dazzling PowerPoint presentation and now you’re ready to get the rubber stamp from everyone on the product design committee. You walk into the meeting, hand out your binder with numbered and color-coded tabs and proceed to show them a design that’s nearly complete. You blew it.
Trying to influence someone without incorporating their ideas is an uphill battle. By presenting what looks like a finished project, you’re implicitly saying “I didn’t need you.” You’re likely to get some impressive resistance in response. So instead of engaging your stakeholders late in the process, get them involved earlier. Use successive iterations to demonstrate where you’ve included their ideas. To reinforce the point that you’re looking for input, don’t use images or finely crafted slides at the early stages. Make it look like a work in progress.
Influence is a part of everyday life and those who are masters at it get much further than those who aren’t. Think about your own influence strategies and work to eliminate these three costly mistakes.