I can think of a million ways to “fix” other people around me. They’re just all so messed up, aren’t they?
Here’s the brutal truth: That’s not the way the universe works. You don’t get to “fix” them.
After I get over the disappointment from that statement, now what can I do? How do I keep myself from just being a victim of circumstances, a slave to my situation?
Here’s the secret: I have considerable influence over the people in my life.
Maybe that doesn’t sound like a big deal, but it is. What it means is that if I want to make a difference in other peoples’ behavior, I first have to take responsibility for my own. I have to work to influence others, which isn’t a simple process.
Influence isn’t just a nice word for control
Influencing is actually a much different concept than controlling, because it’s based on a cooperation of individuals, leading to a desire to change. With control, desire doesn’t really enter into the picture.
Let’s say that I want to influence you to leave some kind words in the comment section of this blog, something which will let me know whether you’re getting value from this page. I have absolutely no control over whether you do that, and in fact you may have left the page before the end of this sentence.
What I can do, though, is to show you why it might be valuable to you to leave comments. I can’t give you money or guarantee fame. So perhaps I can appeal to your vanity, giving you a place to see your name printed on a website. More powerful than that might be to explain how this creates a conversation where I can respond to what you say as you respond to my words.
Perhaps even more interesting is how a conversation on a blog like this creates a community of people who can all be helping each other to learn about an interesting concept like exerting influence.
You can see the thought process I was using there:
Let’s say that I’d like to ask my boss for a change in job assignments. I have relatively little power in this situation, but certainly do have influence. So first I can be clear what I’m asking for: “I’d like to talk with you about the possibilities of shifting my job responsibilities.” Then I have some well-articulated ways to show value: “If we can do this, not only will I be more productive in my job, but also I’ll become much more valuable to the organization in the long term.” Finally, I remove obstacles: “I would work with you on creating the set of responsibilities which are most valuable to the group and where I could make the best contributions, and I will work with you to phase this in over a period of 3 months so that the others on the team are impacted the least. I’ll spend extra effort to cross-train people to take over my current job.”
Depending on the situation, this may or may not work. Anything truly valuable in life isn’t a sure thing. But what I’ve done is opened up a conversation with my boss where I’ve demonstrated professionalism, a desire to give benefit to her and the larger organization, and flexibility.
Thinking through the conversation is the first step to having influence.
As a footnote, I’ll mention that I’ve used this exact strategy three times in my career to create jobs which were customized to my own abilities and interests, making a deep difference to the larger organization. But each time, it took between 3 and 9 months to get through the process. It takes considerable focus and determination.
Here in northern Colorado, we have a wonderful organization which is focused on serving the needs of people who are looking for new jobs. Especially during these tumultuous times, it’s more important than ever to have a group of people who can help you with difficult decisions. Check out what groups are in your area!
Carl Dierschow is a certified Organizational Leadership Coach and author of the career management guide, Mondays Stink! 23 Secrets to Rediscover Delight and Fulfillment in Your Work. He is a career coach for those going through interesting transitions, and works with leaders who are creating amazing teams. Find out more at www.Dierschow.com and www.PossibilitiesPartnership.com.If you are interested in individual career coaching, group coaching, or other resources which might help you with difficult choices, please contact Carl at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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