|Published: October 9, 2014
Jennifer Selby Long, Selby Group
Are you frustrated with your peers?
“How do I get my peers to speed up decision-making?”
“How can I get the rest of the C-suite to agree to my recommendations for strategic investment? What worked at my old company isn’t working here. No one will commit.”
“How can I get these people on board? Even though I don’t report to them, I need to have their buy-in to move forward. They don’t have the authority to say yes to the budget, but they all have the influence to block it.”
What do these three questions have in common? In each case, the leader wants his or her peers to change, or more accurately, to change their behaviors. Peer-level influence is often the most frustrating persuasion challenge, since you have no hierarchical authority to fall back on if data and logic don’t convince them.
Let’s look at several techniques you can use to become less frustrated and more effective at influencing your peers.
First, make it real for them (and yourself) with action verbs.
Before influencing your peers, be sure to get behavioral and specific in your assessment of the challenge or problem as well as what would happen if the challenge or problem were successfully addressed.
In business, we often talk about the need for specific outcomes, but a specific noun or number isn’t enough. It turns out those boring English grammar classes back in your school days taught you something useful after all: an action verb is an action another person can see taking place. If you use action verbs to communicate with your peers, you will eliminate 80%+ of misinterpretation.
Using the first example, above, the leader would ask questions like this to get to action verbs and specifics:
What is the team doing or saying (or not doing or not saying) that leaves me with the opinion that decision-making is too slow?
Which specific behaviors do I think are causing decision-making to be slow, and what consequences are there to the business? (Don’t worry about the causes at this point, because the question is strictly about what you see happening.)
If I had a camera and I were recording everything that happens, what would I see people doing, saying, not doing, and not saying if the problem or challenge were successfully addressed?
Abstract observations are fine as a starting point for your thinking, but you have to get down to the level of the action verb to be convincing to others.
Next, consider the possible cause or causes of the current situation.
Everything in a business is the way it is because it made sense to somebody at the time, given the information and resources available to him or her.
Start with an environmental scan. Is this behavior or approach more or less the norm in this industry? If you’ve moved from a different industry, you need to get a handle on this before determining how you will influence peers. If this behavior or approach is the norm for the industry, you could be fighting a losing battle if you frame up your suggestion as an idea that’s important because you see it as important.
To be more influential, either determine how this change would support something your peers already see as very important (such as empowering their entire workforce, or providing the highest level of customer service) or begin seeding the idea that your company’s best chance at breaking away from the competition may be to pursue your recommended course of action.
If your peer group doesn’t want to break away from the pack or feels secure in their current market position, you’re going to have to be patient because this is going to take a while. In most organizations, it’s more difficult to get big changes off the ground when there is no immediate threat. You’ll have to work to get the momentum going.
Your peers may understandably be concerned about breaking something that isn’t broken by introducing the significant change you have in mind. One of the simplest and most often overlooked tools is putting yourself in their shoes and truly seeking to understand their perspectives, even allowing their perspectives to influence yours and further shape your thinking.
Take an honest look at potential trust issues in your peer relationships.
After conducting an environmental scan, it’s time to consider other factors, such as trust:
Are they experiencing low professional trust with you? Professional trust involves worries about your competence in the job, such as worries that you don’t know what you’re doing at this scale and that your decisions will sink the business.
Are your peers experiencing low personal trust with you? Personal trust involves concerns about your personal ethics, such as concerns that you will stab them in the back.
Do you see signs of trust issues? It can be very, very hard on the ego to really see these issues. Still, seeing a trust issue and acknowledging it are clearly prerequisite to working on the relationship and modifying your own behaviors in ways that will deepen trust and make you more influential.
Consider the possibility that you may need to adapt to extreme style differences.
Are you experiencing extreme style differences on the team, far more than you’ve experienced on other teams? It happens often on cross-functional leadership teams, because the leaders come from different professional backgrounds. This is considerably less common with teams of individual contributors, who often have more similar styles because they have been shaped by the same profession or business function.
If you’re new to being on a cross-functional leadership team, it can be quite a shock to find yourself attempting to influence people who seem to approach every challenge differently from you and differently from each other. Likewise, if you’ve always been able to bridge style differences on previous leadership teams but find yourself on a team with style differences more extreme than you’ve experienced, it can become discouraging.
The great news here is that style differences can be addressed more easily than the other issues, above, through the consistent, pragmatic, and ethical use of a style inventory and debrief.
The biggest challenge in the C-suite is rarely in the execution of this approach – it’s in getting everyone in agreement to do an inventory in the first place.
This is where your outside advisor can play a valuable role. I’ve found that style inventories are often more effective when integrated into a more business-focused meeting or off-site so that leadership team members can practice style adaptations real-time, working together on real business challenges, with their coach nearby to provide feedback.
Of course, none of these techniques are a substitute for your analytical chops. These techniques won’t help you if your fundamental assessment of the business problem or challenge is weak or your idea just isn’t a very good one. Hey, we’ve all had ideas that weren’t very good. There’s no shame in it and sometimes you just have to accept that your idea was a dog, after all. It’s o.k.
However, when your analysis is excellent but your peers just don’t seem to “get it,” try these techniques and then adapt your approach based on what you learn from exploring each of these three factors. Soon, you will be a much more influential peer.
What have you done to improve your influence with your peers? Let me know at www.jenniferselbylong.com.
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