Influencing people can sometimes be a difficult and demanding process. People respond in different, sometimes unpredictable, ways when others are trying to influence their thoughts and actions. This is true enough in one to one situations but is particularly so in group situations. The following ideas will help you overcome difficulties when trying to influence groups.
• Setting a positive tone and modelling positive influencing behaviours
• Being yourself, without defensiveness or hidden agendas, and sharing your experiences and feelings to establish empathy.
• Describing what you see rather than being judgemental, e.g. “on the basis of what you’ve said, you don’t look to be supportive…”
• Being empathetic – showing you understand people’s situation, needs and feelings, i.e. trying not to give advice, judgements or interpretations.
• Maintaining your assertiveness, but avoiding displays of unnecessary emotion (weakness or aggression) and unhelpful behaviours, immediate counter-attacks and talking over the top of people.
• Keeping people and problems separate, i.e. recognise that in many cases other people are not just ‘being difficult’ – real and valid differences can lie behind conflicting positions. By separating the problem from the person, real issues can be debated without damaging working relationships.
• Exploring options together, i.e. being open to the idea that a third position may exist and that you can get to this idea in collaboration with others.
• Listening first and talking second – to stand any chance of influencing others you must first understand where other people are coming from before feeling you must ‘defend’ your own position.
• Focusing on getting the support of the ‘early adopters’, i.e. there will usually be a proportion of people in any group who are open to new ideas or new ways of doing things. Their support can often be influential in encouraging the more resistant to come forward, over time, in support of your views or action plans.
Recognising that people often behave differently in groups can help you, tactically, to be more effective in influencing others. Much of this is about watching and listening to group behaviour and exercising your own judgement about when to be assertive and intervene and when to sit back as discussions unfold and people exchange views or come into conflict.