Andy works as a software developer. He lamented:
No one listens to my ideas! How can I influence group decisions?
Great question! Many people struggle to influence groups. They think, “This shouldn’t be so hard.” But it is.
So, Andy, I have good news and bad news. The good news is that I’ll give my best tips and tricks down below. The bad news is that influence is hard work and requires you to adjust your expectations. No one will listen to you if you behave like Cousin Joe1 and assume you always have the best ideas. (You don’t!) No one will listen to you if you expect everyone to go along with you simply because you exist.
Just imagine if a coworker asked, “How can I get Andy to go along with my ideas?” You’d be incredulous at such an entitlement. You’re not obligated to accept anyone’s suggestions. But you’re open to hearing out folks who respect you.
And that’s the mindset you need to adopt: No one is obligated to go along with your ideas. No one owes you anything. You earn every ounce of influence.
With that out of the way, let’s walk through my five tips for influencing group decisions.
1. Align with group goals
Do your actions align with the group’s goals? Or do they conflict?
Examples of mismatched actions and goals:
- While the group discusses its goal of doubling revenue for a flagship product, you suggest launching a new product.
- While the group discusses a 10X growth goal, you interject with a slew of cost-cutting measures.
Don’t swim upstream. Align with the group’s goals.
If you don’t know people’s goals, talk to them! Ask, “What does success look like for this project? What does failure look like?” Suss-out their short-term intentions and long-term aspirations. And find out how this current project will help them advance their career and avoid embarrassment.
2. Forge positive relationships
Blair Warren said, “People will do anything for those who encourage their dreams, justify their failures, allay their fears, confirm their suspicions, and help them throw rocks at their enemies.”
This quote is hyperbolic: you don’t need to help coworkers attack their adversaries. But, and this is a big but, the quote is directionally correct. People need to feel that you’re on their side and in their corner. Your actions must convince coworkers that you’re empathetic, that they can rely on you.
If you fail at this, nothing else matters.
3. Understand the whole problem
You believe you have the best ideas. You’re certain that you have a complete understanding of issues. But do you? Be honest!
Have you listened to every stakeholder with the sole intent of understanding their perspective? (Or does every conversation center on you and your ideas?) Can you summarize each person’s concerns better than they can?
If you haven’t listened to everyone, you don’t understand the whole picture. You won’t have the best solutions. And no one will listen to you.
Sidenote: listening is the #1 way to forge positive relationships.
4. Show respect in meetings
There are two levels of respect in meetings.
Level one is achieved by regulating your own behavior. In a 5-person meeting, only speak 20% of the time. This equates to a mere 12 minutes in a 60-minute meeting. And 48 minutes of listening! Can you do this? Will you restrain yourself? It’s harder than you think. Also, don’t interrupt people. Or scoff at their ideas.
Level two is attained when you empower others. Make sure each group member is heard. Say, “Hold on, I want to hear what Taylor thinks.” Vocalize and amplify points of agreement, especially with quiet members. Lastly, call out disrespect.
Sidenote: disrespecting folks in meetings is the #1 way to ruin relationships.
5. Be clear and concise
Can you describe your ideas using Positive Action Language? It’s not enough to describe what you don’t want to happen. You must articulate what you do want.
Can you summarize your ideas in one sentence? No one wants a treatise. No one wants a lecture. Explain your proposal in one sentence. And invite people to ask questions.
Can you anticipate all objections? People play the devil’s advocate to get a sense of how thoroughly you’ve thought through your ideas. How many objections can you handle?
Influencing group decisions is hard work! It requires you to align with others’ goals, build relationships, understand the whole problem, show respect in meetings, and be clear & concise. (What a list!)
Most people focus on building relationships—which is a good thing!—but don’t spend enough energy discovering others’ goals (and aligning with said goals). To make matters worse, most people grossly overestimate how well they understand others’ aims. (See the Dunning–Kruger effect, where someone with low knowledge/ability will overestimate their knowledge/ability.)
Get to know your group members. For each one, you should be able to answer:
- What does success look like for this project?
- What does failure look like?
- What problems must be solved right now? Why?
- How will this project’s success further their career?
- What kind of embarrassment do they want to avoid?
- What are their strengths and weaknesses?
- What are they hungry to learn or do?
Once you do this, you’ll be well on your way to influencing group decisions.
Influence requires you to build relationships and negotiate with people.
My favorite book on forging relationships is Nonviolent Communication. It presents a methodology for resolving conflict and getting your needs met without judgment or criticism. The author, Marshall Rosenberg, hosted numerous seminars and you can watch one here.
I recommend learning about negotiation with Never Split the Difference. The author is a former FBI hostage negotiator, and his book walks through negotiating strategies that work in any setting.
Lastly, read Start with No to boost your negotiating ability in a business setting.
Cousin Joe is a stand-in for a variety of folks who feel entitled. In some cases, Cousin Joe is me. ↩