Dear Colleagues,

How many times have you been involved in an engineering meeting and wished you had more influence on the outcome? Often your opinions simply get ignored - even when you (and some of the others) know it is probably the best solution.

Influencing people is part of leadership. However, you don’t suddenly become influential. It takes time and inevitably - work. And a change to your way of thinking if you are not a particularly influential person.

You may ask the usual question which is: Why bother? Well, being able to influence a decision or person is likely to bring a more satisfactory outcome to a project and indeed, improve your current job.

Communications is one of the keys –but not the only one
One of the key elements of being influential is being able to communicate well and passionately. This gives others a reason to listen to you. Reinvigorating a discussion with a passionate and thoughtful outlook always draws people.

Listening Carefully is another key Technique
It is vital to listen carefully to others and then to mesh your ideas in with their approach. I am staggered by how often people often suggest very similar approaches to solving a problem but an argument arises - as no one has actually listened carefully enough to each person’s position (which is identical to theirs).

‘Disengage mouth’ and listen carefully and then talk. People value you when they know you are listening carefully to them.

The Influential Toolbox
A few suggestions on boosting your influence (for the good) in your firm or at home.

  • Show energy and passion and volunteer to take ideas on board and drive them within your company or group.
  • Research the idea or approach and ensure that you are prepared and 100% technically familiar with the proposal or concept.
  • Listen carefully to the others in your group and get their opinion before formulating and then communicating a strong position.
  • Avoid negativity in discussions. Encourage debate and dissent. Be clever about understanding the other person’s position and getting to the best overall solution. People will respect you more if you can draw on them and build on their approaches as well. Avoid compromising for the sake of peace. It is always best to come up with the best long term solution.
  • Don’t worry about people who attack your approach with vigour. You will naturally feel defensive. But encourage alternative views and listen carefully to craft the best possible approach. It is good that one has dissent and disagreement about working out the best approach to follow. This allows you to look at other (often) unpalatable and painful approaches which may yield the best result.

Thanks to Susan de la Vergne of the IEEE for an interesting article on this topic.

Always avoid falling into trap first put forward by John F. Kennedy: No matter how big the lie; repeat it often enough and the masses will regard it as truth.

Yours in engineering learning,

Steve