Influence and Difficult People
The topic of how to influence difficult people, comes up in my work all the time. (At all levels.)
One of the most useful tools in the influence tool kit is to make your voice bigger.
What I mean by this is to never get into a situation where it’s your opinion vs. someone else’s opinion.
If you are only arguing with your own voice, your own idea, your own opinion, you are missing a source of power that can change the game entirely.
When you are in the situation where you know you are right and what you are recommending is really important, it can be very frustrating when no one is supporting you.
“Why should we listen to YOU?”
Many years ago, early in my career when I had a job as a product manager, I stumbled into a disagreement with the product development team.
One day I went to the group of product developers who were all sitting a room finishing a meeting and said,
“Do you have a minute to discuss the next product release? I wanted to let you know that we need to make a change to the user interface to say [a different thing], so that customers will not be confused anymore.”
In the grand scheme of things, this was a very small change in terms of scope, effort, and reason for controversy.
However, instead of the expected answer of, “OK”, I was confronted with,
“And who are you, that you think you can tell us what to put into the product?”
Sadly, my answer of “I’m the product manager,” held no weight with them.
They replied instead, “What makes you think you are smarter than we are?”
So my reply was this:
I do not think I am smarter than you are. I certainly hope I am not smarter than you are! Because we’re all counting on you to be brilliant.
But in my role as a product manager, it’s my job to talk to customers. In the past 6 weeks, I’ve talked to 75 customers and 71 of them pretty much insisted that we make this change to the UI, because it was causing so much confusion in their organizations.
What makes you think you are smarter than 71 paying customers?
They made the change.
What if the difficult person is your boss?
Sometimes the person blocking you is your boss. This can be really frustrating.
I have had a saying for a long time:
Never blame your failure on the fact that your boss is stupid
If your boss is blocking you, and your boss is wrong, don’t let your career get damaged by a their bad decision. But also remember that you don’t win against your boss.
If the disagreement is between just you and your boss, and you know in your heart that your career will suffer more if you agree with your boss than if you hold your ground, you need to find a way forward.
But going forward without the support of your boss and hoping they will come to appreciate what you did when it is finished, is a very risky strategy.
By employing the voices of others, you can create much more support for your idea and garner enough influence to help your boss to see the way forward.
Making your voice bigger
Never just use your own voice in an argument.
Find others to strengthen it.
It might be customers. It might be peers of the person. It might be others in the organization. It might be the assistant to the executive or the spouse!
I will tell you that I have employed all of these people at one time or another in my career to help make my voice bigger.
It’s not about being right personally. It’s about getting the right result.
And very often it requires a chorus of people to be saying something to create influence with a difficult person.
What do you think?
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Patty Azzarello is an executive, best-selling author, speaker and CEO/Business Advisor. She became the youngest general manager at HP at the age of 33, ran a billion dollar software business at 35 and became a CEO for the first time at 38 (all without turning into a self-centered, miserable jerk)