How to Radically Transform Your Influence When You Don’t Think You Can

I Can’t – That’s Just Who I Am

“Understanding people and how to communicate with them – I’m just not that kind of person. You’ve either got it or you haven’t, wouldn’t you say?”

This was what a client of mine said – we’ll call him John – during a recent conversation. He said he was much better at data and analysis than people. He understood the need to improve his ability to communicate with his colleagues and was able to bring to life the tension that sometimes emerged in certain situations. He was, however, sceptical as to what he could do differently:

“I don’t get how some people just know what to say or how to get someone onside. It is like some kind of magic.”

Start With What Works

Human beings are complex and varied in their abilities. Thankfully we have moved on from measuring intelligence from a purely academic perspective, but there is still a lingering assumption among some that if you are not born with a particular talent then there is not much you can do to develop it.

I believe that everyone has something of value to bring to the table and that the more we understand and believe in our gifts, the more confidently we are able to use them influentially. Furthermore, getting clarity and ownership in one area of competence can have a knock-on effect on our other aptitudes.

This was critical with John. We were unlikely to make any progress with team interaction and influence until he had a better feel for his usual way of being. I wanted him to identify what he does find easy and what about that he could put to good use in the arena of communication. To believe that it would be possible to make headway without a magic wand.

Use What Is Working to Change What Isn’t Working

Delving into John’s experience as a scientist opened up a fruitful discussion around the anatomy of communication and the importance of framing messages in ways that the listeners absorb and process information differently. Recognizing that he is a very fast thinker with a tendency to move quickly from one idea to another, led him to question whether many of his teammates shared this same approach.

John had then to understand what he needed to do differently to smooth the process of information transfer, and, more importantly, how to increase the chances of his colleagues wanting to converse with him. The watershed came at the point we started unpicking this ‘engagement’ piece, that whereas generally we all want to help each other and make our mark,  how we do that can differ dramatically. At this juncture John’s need for data came to the fore.

Building on the self-assessment of his approach to persuasion, which included interrupting people when they were ‘clearly wrong‘, and talking faster to provide more data in the face of poor understanding, John has begun a kind of scientific experiment and is currently observing his teammates to unearth clues about how they to like to be, and do not like to be, approached.

The Impact of Curiosity

Here are just a few of the questions John is contemplating:

  • What if I allowed people to fully outline their objections, even if I felt it would be quicker to interrupt and put them right?
  • What would happen if I asked them if there was specific information they needed, rather than giving them all the material up front?
  • Are there any colleagues who prefer to start the conversation from a more personal standpoint before getting down to business?
  • What might be the impact of proactively finding out what pressures my colleagues are under? How might merely demonstrating an understanding of what’s going on for them impact on communication?

From a scientific viewpoint one would not expect to see any results until the end of the research phase and once optimal solutions had been reached. But here’s the thing, one week in, and John is already transforming his level of influence. Even without an intentional change of approach, his more reflective demeanour is triggering a different and more co-operative approach from his colleagues. They are sensing a desire in John to better understand their point of view, and as a result they are more willing to meet him half-way. It looks like his credibility is on the increase in line with a reducing need to have the loudest voice.

Of course it is early days, and there will still be much to be done to ensure old habits are unlearned and new ones embedded, but the signs are good. John has tapped into his strengths in analysis to reframe his understanding of human communication and to challenge his previous limiting belief that he was not equipped to improve his own approach. He was able to ditch the need for the proverbial magic wand.

Questions to take you further

You may not resonate with John’s particular challenges, but most of us harbour assumptions about ourselves that may not stand up to scrutiny.

  • What beliefs about your abilities might you be holding, that are in fact not true?
  • How clear are you about your talents and the value you bring to your colleagues and loved ones?
  • Which of your known strengths could you deploy to take you out of your comfort zone and reframe your  understanding of what is possible?


Find out more about the work Clare McNamara does with leaders and their teams on influence and authenticity.

© Move Ahead Global 2016


I agree to have my personal information transfered to MailChimp ( more information )
Sign up here
We hate spam. Your email address will not be sold or shared.
No Comments

Post A Comment

Skip to content