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We have a great course at Riverbend around Influential Leadership called The CAR Model: Driving Influence®. We use the word CAR as the acronym in our teaching of needed skills in influencing including our Communication, our Actions, and our Reputation. The workshop walks participants through each component and highlights how we can adjust them to have more influence. We also capture real-life situations where participants need to influence others in order to action plan during the course.

Last month while I was teaching this course, I overheard a discussion that made me pause and reflect on the intention of influence and how we use it in our workshop and more broadly, society.

The group was working on their action plan, and the participant said something along the lines of, “I need this person to get on board with my idea. How can I influence this person to accept my idea and move my idea forward?” (Bold and underline for emphasis!)

Uh-oh! Whether intentional or not, it came across as a one-sided view of influence- getting someone else to do what I want. When said that way, influence seems very self-serving and maybe even selfish. But is that all that influence is about? No way! Was I teaching a course on trying to show people how to get their own way? I hope not! I knew I had to help this participant reframe their thinking, and I needed to be purposeful in the words that I chose to frame up the concept.

Influence encompasses more than just one person getting their way. Influence can have a positive impact on both people involved and can help progress stagnant situations forward.

And then a personal story came to me that I then shared with the class. Years ago, I had a very adversarial relationship with a peer colleague on my team. We did not see eye to eye on almost anything and were both pretty vocal about our disagreements. I am guessing it was not very fun to be in a meeting with the two of us. It was not the way that I liked to work, but things were so bad, I felt I had to hold my own. I had someone that worked for me tell that my colleague and I were his two favorite bosses, and I could not understand how my colleague and I could have any traits in common. Low and behold, we somehow ended up sitting next to each other at a work dinner. We were at the end of the table, so we didn’t have many choices except to talk to each other. I didn’t really want to sit there in silence so I figured we had to talk. We didn’t talk about work. We both knew that would be touchy, plus it had been a long day, why do that to ourselves. So, we talked personally. We talked about families, where we grew up, challenges we faced, and a host of other topics that somehow miraculously started to flow in a very pleasant conversation. By the end of the night, I could say with certainty that I had enjoyed myself.

That night after dinner, I thought a lot about that conversation and how I had misjudged my colleague. I was hoping he was thinking he might have misjudged me too. The next day I pulled him aside. I first told him that I had a really nice time talking with him the night before. I then acknowledged the adversarial nature of our relationship up to this point. Then, I simply told him I would love it if we could both take that stress out of our lives and start to work together. He was beyond gracious and willing to take that step with me. Our relationship was forever changed after that day, and it is a work relationship that I grew to cherish.

So what did this story have to do with influencing? At the end of the day, my colleague and I still had very different views on how to handle some situations and we still didn’t see eye to eye on many subjects. Our ability to influence each other was forever changed though. For the rest of our working relationship, we were able to talk and listen to each other’s ideas in ways that had not been possible before. He influenced me and I influenced him which made us better, our team better, and helped move us forward. This was not because one of us had the ability to now convince the other that we were right, but because we were able to be influenced by positive intent to find common ground. That common ground enabled us to come up with new ideas that hadn’t been thought of before and were ultimately better than what we came up with on our own.

Taking actions to build stronger relationships helped my influence him but did not help me convince him to do what I wanted. That’s okay though because that is not the point of influence.

Author Riverbend

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