Influence is a skill set that can be developed by anyone who is willing to do the work. You can grow your influence no matter your background, position or success to date.
If you want to reach the next level, whatever that may be – progressing from vice president to president, moving from CEO of a smaller company to a larger company, or raising more capital for your entrepreneurial venture – the best action you can take to further your success is to improve your influence skills. The higher you advance in your career, the more influence you need to do your job effectively. Even if all you want to do is stay at the top of your game, you must continually improve. If you’re not moving forward, you’re falling behind.
Therefore, get up and start moving by taking these immediate steps to becoming an influential communicator.
1. Prepared Feedback. As much as we know how critical feedback is, have you ever noticed how feedback is flawed? I am guessing you have asked for feedback throughout your career, usually with a query like, “How did I do?” If you’re like most, you’re very familiar with the common response, “Good” or “Nice job.” This isn’t feedback. In some cases, your feedback provider may be lying to you because they don’t have the courage to tell you the truth. They should be offering helpful feedback such as, “It takes you a long time to get to the point.” “You’re always looking away from me while you’re talking.” “It’s difficult to follow your conversation and to stay connected with you.”
Prepared feedback is the key to learning exactly how you communicate and the perception others have of you. It also reveals how you may be limiting yourself, your influence and your success.
Even though we know we need feedback, most individuals avoid it because they feel vulnerable. Fear can be a great motivator if we use it to propel ourselves forward rather than allowing it to hold us back. The prospect of not knowing our blind spots should be far more frightening than hearing an uncomfortable truth.
Constructive feedback is the catalyst for growth. It identifies your strengths and brings to light areas that need improvement. Welcome feedback as the gift that it is. You may have learned this the hard way, as have I. For example, you may think your emails are thorough; others think you ramble and take too long to get to the point. You may feel confident when you speak, but others experience you as tentative. If you never receive feedback that your emails are too drawn out or that you come across as nervous, how would you know you need to make a change?
One of the first steps to enhancing your influence is to create an environment in which people feel comfortable giving you 100 percent honest feedback. Once you have built trust, prepare feedback to make sure it is meaningful, immediate, specific and constructive. Consider the following:
· Look for everyday opportunities. Instead of waiting for the “big gig,” seek feedback on a regular basis. Soliciting feedback involves just a few minutes before and after a conversation, meeting, presentation or even an email.
· Make it simple. Focus on one behavior at a time. First, it is difficult for others to accurately observe multiple areas of communication. Second, if you ask for feedback on multiple items, you risk diluting the feedback, becoming overwhelmed and not taking action on any of it. Before a meeting, presentation, face-to-face or virtual conversation, ask the person you trust, “I’m working on getting to the point. Would you please listen for this during the meeting and then spend five minutes after to give me feedback?”
· Dig deeper. Ask the person to describe precisely what you said or did. For example, “What behavior did I display that conveyed confidence (or whichever area you are seeking feedback about)?” If the person responds with generalities such as, “You did well,” ask follow-up questions: “What specifically did I do that was good?” “What specifically could I do to sound and look more confident?”
· Assess the experience. After receiving feedback, consider:
How did the feedback differ from your perception of how you communicated?
What will you change as a result of the feedback?
How did you feel receiving this feedback?
Write down the feedback you receive and the answer to the above questions on Post-it Notes,® then place these in front of you in your work area. When the feedback is right there every day, it’s easier to focus on your development and influence daily.
2. Deliberate Practice. Practice drives success. The greater the desired outcome, the greater the demand on practice. Improving your communication and influence skills requires what high-performance researchers Ericsson, Prietula and Cokely call “deliberate practice – practice that focuses on tasks beyond your current level of competence and comfort.” They explained this concept in Harvard Business Review: “Not all practice makes perfect. You need a particular kind of practice – deliberate practice – to develop expertise. When most people practice, they focus on the things they already know how to do. Deliberate practice entails considerable, specific, and sustained efforts to do something you can’t do well – or even at all. Research across domains shows that it is only by working at what you can’t do that you turn into the expert you want to become.”[i]
The good news is that communicating with influence does not require you to carve out more time from your already hectic, overscheduled days. Instead, consciously practice communicating with influence in the interactions you’re already having. For example, if you have spoken to anyone or sent even one email or text today, you had an opportunity to practice. When you look at it this way, practice becomes part of your daily routine. The opportunities are right in front of you, just waiting to be used.
Being an influential communicator through every word you speak and every movement you make takes practice. You can’t read how-to’s in a book, attend a training session or rely on your title to be influential. The hard truth is that being influential is a lifelong journey of practicing through day-to-day interactions.
3. Audio and Video Record. You cannot become an influential communicator if you’re not regularly experiencing your verbal and nonverbal communication through the eyes and ears of your listeners. Since we communicate 24/7, we no longer have excuses to NOT record ourselves. We have the technology to make this happen and we have numerous opportunities to record ourselves in action: presentations, team meetings, face-to-face or virtual conversations.
If videoing yourself during a presentation or meeting, increase your credibility by explaining to your listeners, “Part of my commitment to my professional development is to see and hear myself through your eyes and ears.”
If audio recording yourself during a phone call, only record your side of the conversation, unless you specifically ask permission to record the person on the other end.
Immediately after the interaction, watch the video or listen to the audio playback. Watch and listen from your listeners’ viewpoint. Believe what the video shows. Nothing is more honest. Ask yourself:
o Is there a difference between how you felt during the recording and how you look?
o What perception would you have of yourself based on what you see and hear?
o Would you be influenced by your communication?
o What do you want to change?
If you want an online resource, check out our Self-Awareness Checklist (free download at www.InfluenceRedefined.com) to help you evaluate your verbal and nonverbal communication.
Being an influential communicator is a lifelong learning process that requires consistent effort and practice. I can say with the utmost confidence that if you begin applying these immediate steps today, you will achieve exceptional results. They represent the cycle of continuous improvement that will take you from good communicator to influential leader.
[i] Ericsson, K. Anders, Michael J. Prietula, and Edward T. Cokely. “The Making of an Expert.” Harvard Business Review. Harvard Business Review, 01 July 2007. Web. 07 Aug. 2015.