In our continued series of weekly blogs sharing Lessons from Lockdown, Dan Connors explores how the new reality may have affected stakeholders and the options you might adopt to communicate with and influence them.
We define influence as the ability to change how people think feel and act in a way that aligns with your goals and we learnt what we know about influence on high stakes military intelligence operations where the ROI was lives saved. We have spent the past four years working across many sectors to help them with their influence challenges.
Either consciously or unconsciously we are all influencing people every day, but we become more aware of it when we have a clear goal we want to achieve. Sometimes to achieve our goals we will need to influence a single person while at other times we may need to influence many different people in different ways within different organisation.
Lockdown has significantly impacted how we influence, creating both new challenges and opportunities. At the personal level we believe that influence relies on understanding the individual, communicating effectively with them and using the right influence approach at the right time.
Pre-lockdown you may have built up a good understanding of your key stakeholders, but we have found across our client base that individuals have not always responded in the way we would have expected. One of our large tech clients has found that within their own customers leaders and managers who – in the pre-Covid office environment were happy with high levels of autonomy for their team – have become micromanagers, checking in on team members at an unhelpful level. This has caused delay on procurement and delivery for our client.
Understanding what has changed and why, is key to effective influence in these disruptive times.
Options for improvement
- Explaining the impacts the lockdown has had on you is a good way of building trust and getting people to be open about the impacts on them: “I used to love the days I worked from home but now I’m doing it all the time I’m missing the human contact.”
- Using “tell, explain, describe” to encourage the other person to explain how the situation has changed: “Describe the impacts this has had on you” or “Tell me how you’ve had to adapt during these times.”
- When appropriate, check the other person’s social media footprint as a way of understanding them better.
Methods of communication
Since lockdown began our ability to interact with others has fundamentally changed. For those individuals used to working from home or remotely this has been less of an impact than for others, but even for these people used to communicating at distance the cumulative impact has been significant.
Communication is fundamental to influence and most people recognise that when we move from communicating face to face to a remote form of communication, we lose something. When we are communicating face to face we transmit and receive a lot of information that we may not fully be aware of, but which will be influencing how the other person reacts. A quick flash of disgust on our face can fundamentally change how someone feels about what they are talking about. When communicating remotely there are things we can do to make up some of what is lost.
Options for improvement
- On video calls moving your hands into view and ensuring that your face is clearly visible are two simple ways of adding context back into your communication.
- When communicating via text only include emotional labels in your text. “I’m curious why you did it that way?” is very different to “Why did you do it that way?” with the latter more likely to trigger a negative emotional response.
When we communicate
It is not just how we communicate that has been affected, it is also when. The many informal interactions as we encounter people in the office or when visiting clients have disappeared for the time being. The same goes for those championing our cause within a project or with a client; their opportunities to influence on our behalf have also reduced. Often these conversations include individuals with whom we might not meet formally about an issue but take opportunities to highlight issues, concerns, and opportunities as we bump into them.
More frequent video calls with more individuals to convey the right message might seem like the answer but many of our clients are already taking steps to manage ‘Zoom-Overload’ and cut back on the time spent on video meetings. Many of the initial time savings from reduced commuting seem to have been lost as diaries are filled up with internal team meetings.
Options for improvement
- Discuss this issue openly with stakeholder champions. Some of our clients have found that doing this opens direct conversations they might not ordinarily have.
- Understand the ‘rhythm’ of your stakeholder group meetings and co-ordinate your interactions with these. If a stakeholder group has a team meeting on a Tuesday try to discuss the situation with your stakeholder champion on the Monday. You are more likely to get your points raised at the meeting the next day.
- When requesting someone’s attendance at a remote conversation, you are now fighting for their time more than ever. Be clear about the benefits of their attendance and, more importantly, what they will miss out on if they do not attend. Daniel Kahneman’s work on loss aversion gives strong support to the idea that we are more worried about what we might lose from something than what we will gain.
- If video-call fatigue is an issue with your stakeholders, then moving some interactions back to voice only call may be a better option. Consider which interactions you need to maximise your channels of communication. For routine or simple issues, a phone call may be more productive and allow the other person to get up from their desk and move around – something that is difficult with video calls.
Desires, threats and fears
At the Applied Influence Group, we use a model of sixteen desires and sixteen fears to help us work out how to frame an influence message. This is based on the work of the American psychologist Stephen Reiss who initially identified the sixteen desires which he believes can describe an individual’s intrinsic motivations. What Reiss did not focus on was fear which we believe is often a stronger motivation than desire.
 Reiss, S. (2000). Who Am I? The 16 basic desires that motivate our actions and define our personalities. New York: Tarcher/Putnum.
|Saving||Lack of resource|
|Family||Loss of family|
|Physical Exercise||Physical degradation|
Fear only arises when we perceive a threat and in the absence of a threat, we will pursue those things that we desire. Lockdown and the rapidly changing circumstances which have gone with it have led to a much greater variety of threats and across the clients that we work with this is impacting on how their stakeholders are responding to challenges.
Some of these threats have been highly personal: a loved one testing positive for COVID-19. Other threats have been much wider: a business facing an existential threat to its survival. Many of these threats and the fears that they evoke have either been short-lived or have evolved in different ways, but they have led to different responses to those usually expected from stakeholders. Initial concerns over working from home whilst home schooling arose in many stakeholders. For some this threat has disappeared as they have found ways of managing the situation effectively. Others have found it much more challenging.
Tuning your influence message to maximise a desire or remove a fear will make it resonate much more strongly than it would otherwise.
Options for improvement
- If you see a change of behaviour try to identify the desire or fear that may be driving it.
- Use your wider understanding of what is happening with your client’s situation to establish how this might be impacting your stakeholders. Was one of them expecting a promotion that has now disappeared?
To influence you need to be able to communicate effectively. Lockdown has significantly changed how many people achieve that, both formally and informally. This, along with other threats, has driven rapid and sometimes significant change in stakeholder behaviour. Establishing what that change is and how best you can align your influence messaging to it is the best way of retaining and improving your influence.
Dan Connors co-founded the Applied Influence Group after a 22 year career in the British Army. Applied Influence Group are a specialist influence consultancy who developed their expertise on high stakes military intelligence operations. They continue to successfully apply the methodology they developed to help businesses achieve their influence objectives efficiently, ethically and with precision. Dan can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.