By Paul A. Douglas, Ph.D. Founder & CEO, P.A. Douglas & Associates Inc.
Influence is about getting people to say yes to you. To your ideas, your proposals and your goals. It is also about understanding who you are and who those you hope to influence are. And most importantly, it is about developing highly effective and yet decidedly ethical tactics for achieving ‘win-win’ solutions.
As I have studied the laws of influence I have come to realize that our success in applying the formidable techniques of influence were being limited because no consideration was being given to the unique behavioral style of those that we hoped to influence.
Whether you are an administrative assistant, executive assistant or office manager, it has never been so important to improve and expand your influence skills. In today’s demanding organizational environment, it is no longer how smart you are or how much education you have, or even how well you can do the job from a purely technical perspective, but increasingly you are being judged by how well you can influence your boss, your co-workers, and those who look to you for leader- ship.
It is impossible to talk about influence without talking about power. Without power, you cannot influence others nor can you take responsibility for your own life.
Yet, we often view power in a pejorative way. We all know Lord Acton’s dictum that “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely”. Power, to many is a “dirty” word.
It is really the lack of power, or at least our inability to use power in a non-manipulative way that is at the root cause of both individual failure and organizational immobility. I believe that it is not power, but rather powerlessness that we need to fear. If we lack the power to control our environment, to influence others, we die psychologically.
Myriad stories tell the tales of prisoners of war who, when put in isolation for long periods of time, simply died for no apparent physical reason. Likewise, infants deprived of direct human touch often become victims of Marasmus – a condition characterized first by lethargy, then by physical inactivity and finally by death. As social animals we need to interact with others and influence their beliefs and actions.
Powerlessness and lack of control is often the greatest source of stress in our lives. A recent study by the United States Institute for Occupational Health and Safety found that stress levels in the role of administrative professionals are higher than in the role of surgeons.
Why? Because the surgeon has much greater control over his or her environment. While excellence is the order of the day in medicine, virtually anything that surgeons need to do their jobs has been provided to him or her. (However, the downside risk is greater for a surgeon than the secretary. If the surgeon makes a mistake, people might die. If an AP errs, it seldom results in a loss of life!)
But the administrative professional, particularly at the higher levels, can see problems coming. She or he often tries to engage the boss to head off what he or she perceives as impending threats and dangers. Yet, the boss does not always take these warnings seriously, failing to respond in a timely manner and thereby avoiding a full-blown crisis.
Having the power to in influence others in support of your goals is critical to your success. If you truly want to take control your own life, you need to develop the ability to change other people’s thinking, beliefs and behaviors. You need to influence others more than they influence you. This ability gives you a great deal of power.
The Four Influence Styles:
It is important to realize that different styles of communication have their benefits, as well as costs. The style that we demonstrate has been chosen, because to you it appeared to provide greater benefits than costs.
1. The Passive Option
Individuals who demonstrate the passive style rarely communicate their true feelings, thoughts and beliefs, and when they do express them, they do so in an apologetic, self-effacing manner: “If it wouldn’t be too much trouble,” “It’s only my opinion,” “I’m probably wrong, but,” etc. When things go wrong, passive individuals are likely to assume that they are culpable or responsible in some way. Nonverbal behaviors might include a lack of eye contact, nervous gestures, tics or slumped posture. It might be said that passive individuals feel that others have rights that they themselves do not. Passive behavior is usually emotionally dishonest, indirect, inhibited and self-denying. People often choose nonassertive behaviors to avoid unpleasant situations, stress, conflict and confrontation.
The core assumption of the Passive is that they are inferior to other people in some way and therefore other people have greater rights than you do. They strive to please other people to such a degree that they neglect our own needs. They shy away from saying what they really mean, avoiding actions that may upset other people or hurt their feelings. Their behavior is driven by passive thinking, such as “I mustn’t rock the boat”, “I’m not important”, “Nothing ever goes right for me.” In choosing to violate their own rights, they reveal an “I’m not okay, you’re okay” attitude.
2. The Aggressive Option
Aggressive behavior is often witnessed by hostile or coercive words or actions towards other people. This behavior involves standing up for one’s own rights and expressing one’s own thoughts, feelings and beliefs in a way that is inappropriate and violates the rights of others. Superiority is maintained by putting other people down. The aggressive individual believes that they have more rights, fewer responsibilities and greater worth than other people.
The aggressive person speaks loudly and often talks over other people. Their sentences are abrupt, and the tone often cold and harsh. They may voice threats like “You better watch out” or “If you don’t…,” or put-downs, “Don’t be so stupid” or “You have got to be kidding…”. They use evaluative comments, such as “should” or “ought.” They may be boastful or ask threatening questions, such as “Haven’t you finished that yet?” or “What were you thinking when you…”. They stand rigidly, often crossing their arms and invading other people’s space. The end certainly justifies the means to aggressive individuals and their behavior can be characterized by “I’m okay, you’re not okay.”
3. The Passive-Aggressive Option
Passive-aggressive behavior was first identified by Colonel William Menninger, during the Second World War with regard to the military compliance on the part of soldiers. Menninger found numerous examples of soldiers under his command who were not openly insubordinate or defiant, but demonstrated their aggressiveness “by passive measures, such as pouting, stubbornness, procrastination, purposeful forgetfulness, and passive obstructionism” due to what Menninger saw as “routine military stress”. It is a form of manipulative communication, insofar as a hidden agenda is employed. It often cloaks unspoken resentment and is driven by negative emotions, malice or other motivations intended to hurt or attack someone. Not limited to words, it would include behaviors such as rolling one’s eyes, table tapping, sighing or other nonverbal behaviors intended to express impatience, anger or aggression. They possess conscious hostility towards authority figures, but simply don’t connect their own passive resistance with hostility and resentment. They try to get back at other people through agitation, being purposefully forgetful to avoid fulfilling obligations. Rather than take responsibility for their own actions, they tend to blame and manipulate others.
Lacking transparency, passive aggressive types plan their counter actions covertly, often lying to prevent being blamed for the misfortune suffered by another. Their duplicitous behavior allows them to avoid direct conflict, confrontation or accountability for their actions. They seem like sweet, compliant and agreeable people, but they are really angry, resentful, petty and envious.
4. The Assertive Option
There is yet another profile, -one that avoids the harshness of the aggressive, where we witness insensitivity and selfishness and narcissistic fits of rage. A profile that avoids the manipulative behaviors of the passive-aggressive. A profile that also recognizes that trying to please everyone is a behavioral minefield. This is the fourth option: assertiveness.
What is Assertiveness?
Assertiveness is a core communication skill. It is the ability to state in a positive and constructive manner your needs, wants and rights without violating the needs, wants and rights of other people. Assertiveness is using direct, open and honest communication. When you communicate assertively, you are able to express who you are, to respect yourself, and not devalue your own opinions and beliefs.
Assertiveness seeks a balance of power in relationships by giving and getting respect and leaving room for compromises, when your wants and the needs of those around you come in conflict. When you are assertive you ask for what you want, but you don’t always or necessarily get it. Being assertive also implies that you can express your personal likes and interests spontaneously, that you can talk about yourself without being self-conscious, accept compliments gracefully, and disagree with someone openly and without remorse.
Becoming more influential and assertive takes time, so be patient with yourself as you learn these new critical skills. Being influential is a skill that most people do not have naturally.
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