The Deep End: How To Be More Influential, No Matter Your Role

December 19, 2017

Influence – the ability to make an impact, to make a difference. Through words and action, influence helps to move our schools and profession forward. No matter one’s role – regardless of perceived position or authority or title – we can all make an impact. What does influence look like? What does it sound like?

Just a few actions that increase your influence. Take this self-assessment:

  • Do I listen to and try to understand the needs and issues facing those I intend to influence?
  • Do I show respect for the feelings of others by listening non-judgmentally to their concerns?
  • Do I assert my position without being seen as argumentative?
  • Am I open to influence and seen as one who can change his/her mind?
  • Am I known as a person who knows the limits of his/her capability and shows humility?
  • Am I known as a person who is polite and open to those who disagree with me?
  • Am I known as someone who will compromise?
  • Do I demonstrate a strong commitment to issues that will make my school successful and act in the organization’s best interest rather than my own?

This isn’t an exhaustive list of influential behaviors nor is this a list of actions all of us do well daily. It takes continual self-reflection and intentionality, yet these actions, and others, can be taken and can increase your influence.

Three strategies that I can use to be more influential from the onset. These ideas may seem simple, yet for many, are not easy to do:

  1. Watch your face – non-verbals are so tricky for some of us who don’t have a ‘poker face.’ Making a face of ‘disgust’ or ‘you cannot be serious’ is an immediate showstopper for anyone who picks up on those ‘vibes,’ and most do. Do you want to be seen as someone who can listen actively and not immediately make judgments that shut others down? Then watch your face.
  2. Apologize. When you do something that you didn’t intend to do, but had a negative impact, own it. Your ability to apologize will go a long way in building your reputation as being a good colleague and will increase your influence.
  3. Acknowledge you have changed your mind and tell the person. Recognizing a new perspective, stating “Fair enough,” or stating, “That makes me look at things differently,” provide those with whom you work a sense that you can be persuaded and are not rigid in your own thinking. In future conversations, those with whom you work might be more open to also changing their points of view.

What can I do as a person with authority to influence those who work with me (and not coerce them into doing things my way)?

When you are rolling out a new initiative or getting others to move forward with a project, use the action of “Understand the needs and issues facing those I intend to influence,” and be proactive by stating that understanding. Provide the responses you imagine they will have when you start out. Offer answers to questions such as, “How will I learn about this? How will I be trained to do this? What is the purpose of this? How is this better than the way we have already been doing it? How will my everyday tasks change so I can also do this?” Think through the resistance those around you might experience and respond to that resistance with understanding – a humane and influential strategy.

What can I do as a person without authority to influence my administrator?

Those with positions and titles often hear a lot of complaints. What they really want is someone to not only come to them with a complaint but some proposed solutions they can use. Offer your solutions as suggestions. For example, “One way this might be addressed could be…,” or “One consideration might be…” and offer ideas that are in the form of suggestions, not directives. Stay away from, “You know what you should do, Boss?” Colleagues who understand the context and provide ideas for how to fix challenges get heard more often, and are more influential than those who just whine and complain.

Becoming more influential is a day-by-day, action by action process. It takes communication savvy, an other-focused perspective and a strong commitment to issues that will make one’s school successful. Perhaps the greatest skill is listening. Providing influence isn’t about you. It’s about your ability to see the mission and help guide others towards the common good. So leave your ego at the door. You’ll be more effective, and you may just learn something along the way.

This post was originally published on the edCircuit blog where Jennifer is a featured columnist.

About Jennifer Abrams

Jennifer Abrams

Jennifer Abrams considers herself a "voice coach," helping others learn how to best use their voices – be it collaborating on a team, presenting in front of an audience, coaching a colleague and supervising an employee. Jennifer holds a Master's degree in Education from Stanford University and a Bachelor's degree in English from Tufts University. She lives in Palo Alto, California. Jennifer's publications include Having Hard Conversations, The Multigenerational Workplace: Communicating, Collaborating & Creating Community and Hard Conversations Unpacked – the Whos, the Whens and the What Ifs. She has also created a Corwin Press e-course by the same name.

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