Influencing in a Matrix: seven tips and more

Tim Mitchell offers advice on influencing people – and whilst he’s discussing a matrix or virtual  environment, the advice holds true for most environments.

Apple in red tapeOne of the key issues that many of our course participants face when working in a matrix environment is the move away from ‘Power’ (ie the ability to tell) to ‘Influence’ (ie the need to ask). This is particularly true when working with colleagues in other locations who have their own priorities and drivers. This often leads us into a discussion about the nature of ‘influencing’.

When I ask people to explain what they understand by ‘Influencing’, the answer is usually some variant along the lines of getting a colleague to provide what they need, be that time or resources to prioritize their personal objectives. If we use that definition, if we don’t get what we want, does that mean we have failed to influence effectively?

The classic definition of Influencing is “reciprocity or a mutual exchange of benefit” (cf Cohen and Bradford book ‘Influencing without Authority’*). There are two implications from that:

(a) if you’re not offering something in return, it’s not an influencing situation;

(b) the other person may decide to say no. After all, if you offer me $100 for a chair that I consider to be worth $500, I’m quite likely to refuse your offer.

The challenge for many of our participants is how to offer something to an individual that I’ve never met, our primary mode of communication is via e-mail ,and it’s an issue that came up five minutes ago? This is important because the vast majority of ‘Influencing’ training assumes a face to face relationship and time to negotiate. So here are some ideas:

(1) Express empathy: we’re all busy, so starting off with the words “I know you’ve got a lot on’ is a great start;

(2) Try to avoid beginning with ‘I need this by 12:00 Tuesday’; instead, phrase it as ‘I need this; when would it be possible to have it?’; if the deadline is non-negotiable, be prepared to live with a less than ideal solution;

(3) Be clear. Particularly when using e-mail, make sure the subject title makes sense in terms of what you need, try to answer the ‘Who am I’, ‘What do I need” and ‘Why am I asking you” in the body of the message. Don’t forget, in a complex and ambiguous environment, clarity is a huge virtue and makes it easy for other people to help you;

(4) Make sure you’re asking the right person. it can be difficult to identify whose help you require. In addition, it’s far quicker to go direct to the source rather than via a third party even if they’re trying to be helpful, so try and avoid that if possible;

(5) Use the right technology to flag urgent issues; even a voicemail is better than e-mail if its truly urgent BUT don’t allow your lack of planning to become someone else’s emergency; this also means that you need to be careful about saying ‘Yes’ as a reflex:’Let me find out’ is often a better first response;

(6) Sometimes we have a non-negotiable deadline or need; in that situation. Explain the context (ie why it’s suddenly come up) and offer something in return eg “is there anything I can do for you to make this easier or help on something else?” Even if the other person says no, at least you’ve made the offer!

And finally, learn to lose gracefully! The reality is that in an environment where people have choices, they always retain the right to say ‘Not now’; don’t forget, they have priorities too and we often fall into the trap of assuming that our needs must be as important to you as they are to us. In that situation, how you lose is often more significant than how you win as a way of investing in a future relationship; win wars rather than battles!

See the Global Integration video: “We are all big dogs now”

* “Influence Without Authority” (2nd Edition) by Allan R., Cohen H. Publisher: Wiley; 2 edition (March 18, 2005)


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