7 ways to improve your influencing skills
Today’s workplaces are more diverse and inclusive and require more nuanced leadership skills than previously. Wherever you are, influencing skills will be vital to the process.
Definition of influencing skills
You might be wanting to create and motivate successful teams, or simply raise your visibility as you advance your career. We all need influencing skills. These are defined as:
The capacity to have an effect on the character, development, or behavior of someone or something, or the effect itself.
In a professional capacity it is the ability or power someone has to be persuasive and compelling and impact the opinions, behavior and actions of people around them. Traditionally in organisations this came with an assigned position in the hierarchy. For today’s more complex workplaces, the role of influence in a business environment is more nuanced and multi-layered. In reality people can command influence from wherever they are situated. They just need to know how.
Sadly women fall behind their male colleagues to build robust influencing skills. They can frequently struggle to make the impact they need to advance their careers and even to raise their visibility.
#1 Make influencing skills part of your career strategy
Many women don’t even consider extending their influence as an important part of managing their careers. It’s imperative that you commit to the process.
#2 Don’t wait to be recognized
Workplaces are not fair. No matter how hard you work or how good you are, people with less experience, qualifications and potential than you, will overtake you because they have worked on those strategically important influencing skills. You must do the same.
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#3 Maintain focus
This means sticking to your goals and priorities. Don’t get side tracked and do refuse “office housework” requests. Women are stereotyped as being good multi-taskers but these additional duties are non-promotable tasks. They can end up damaging your career because they take you away from the core activity of your job. Anything you do should pass the “WIFM” test (What’s In It For Me). If the request doesn’t check that box, move swiftly back to your real job. This is not to be confused with genuine “paying it forward” opportunities, such as pro-bono work or volunteering.
#4 Have a clear message
This is about understanding your vision and knowing well where and how you add value. It will be about making sure you are aware of your main transferable skills and keeping them up to date.
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#5 Make yourself memorable
When it comes to most things women are caught in a double bind of judgement. Nowhere is this seen more strongly than in communication skills. Assertive women are seen as being aggressive or abrasive. More collaborative communication is received as being weak or passive. It feels like a lose/lose situation. Being a strong and constructive communicator is a vital tool in your influencing skills tool box. Try and get a handle on your own communication style either professionally or from feedback from colleagues. What are your strengths and what are your personal development needs? Take action as required.
To make yourself memorable find out what people make of you on first meeting. First impressions will impact your overall influencing skills. Ask for feedback or become mindful of your professional image, general demeanor, body language and the way you conduct yourself in everyday business life, including meetings. The way you are perceived, the confidence you project, your sense of empathy all draw people to you and make them want to work with you and be around you.
#6 Raise your visibility
Make sure that key stakeholders in your organisation know who you are to extend your reach. Being influential in a small circle is fine, but for true career advancement you want your reputation to be known widely. Speak in meetings, volunteer for stretch assignments or projects and go out of your way to create a diverse network, both within your organisation and externally. Ask for feedback and seek out mentors and sponsors. Become a mentor or if you can a sponsor for someone junior. If promotion opportunities arise put yourself forward and if they don’t see if your employer will create one for you. Don’t fall into the gender trap of waiting until you meet all the qualifications. Remember, if you don’t ask you don’t get.
#7 Implement your new plan
Changing every habit we have takes work. Start small in low risk situations and gradually work up to some bigger targets. This could be writing a post for your company newsletter, speaking at a conference or leading a hi-viz project. Note what works well and evaluate what you could do better. Rinse and repeat. If you struggle in any area make sure you get professional help.