Compelling Conversations: Influencing Positively in the Workplace

Wed, 05/03/2017 - 14:47
by Kathleen Winsor-Games

This article is based off of the 2017 CPCU Society Leadership Summit session of the same name.

Do you know how to ask for (and get) what you need in the workplace? Whether you are a C-suite executive, the leader of a dispersed team or a solo contributor seeking your first management role, your influencing skills matter.

Have you ever been baffled by the communication style of a boss, staff member or customer? How well do you understand the motivations, pace, communication style, and decision-making process of others?

It is imperative to consider these factors in order to enlist the cooperation of others.  It is not enough to define a clear vision of your goal or make a good business case. Before you rush in, think about your audience.

Begin with building trust. This is something the best influencers do early and often. Next, look to understand the goals, motivations, and decision-making style of each person. Find out what’s in it for them.

Let’s take the case of Bill, the new guy who had recently been promoted to Manager of Operations.

In a rush to impress at his first management meeting, Bill presented an important proposal to the management team. He hoped to upgrade and replace the outdated, patchwork software the company had developed years ago. The new software would integrate finance, human resources, operations, and IT in ways that meant significant efficiencies. The company could take on several highly sought-after customers, while adding new revenue streams--without any new hires.

During the meeting, Bill was stunned when he learned that Mary, the CFO, had helped develop the company’s software in tandem with Gerald, the manager of IT. This had taken place years before Bill joined the company. Because Bill didn’t do his company research first, he stepped on a few toes.

What were Bill’s initial mistakes? More importantly, can he recover from these public blunders?

To begin, Bill could have worked to gain the trust of his peers.  Instead of building trust first, he plunged forward with his own agenda. He compounded this error by not researching the history of the company’s systems, and by failing to explore his idea one-to-one before announcing it broadly in a management team meeting.

Stephen Covey wrote about addressing mistakes in his bestselling book, The Speed of Trust. Covey asserts that we all make mistakes and the difference is in whether or not we can admit mistakes with humility, setting aside our ego for the sake of our relationships. He writes convincingly about leaders who integrate humility and the ability to admit their own mistakes as part of their leadership style. In the book he says, “By behaving in ways that build trust with one, you build trust with many.”

Even though Bill was embarrassed about his rookie mistake, and some damage had been done, he went back to the drawing board. He apologized publicly for his mistake. He set out to build trust with his peers in one-to-one meetings. He took the time to ask questions about Mary’s history with the company and her views on the opportunities and obstacles they faced. During this meeting, he did not raise the idea of the new software. Instead, he observed Mary’s communication style. He looked for ways he could support some of Mary’s goals of working more efficiently with operations. Bill found areas where he could make improvements to daily processes that proved helpful to Mary. He was able to start with some small commitments that allowed him to build trust and earn Mary’s respect.

Next, he met with Gerald one-to-one and followed the same strategy of active listening and looking for ways he could establish cooperation and trust. During these meetings, Bill also observed the differences in how each of his peers preferred to receive information.  

Bill learned that Mary made decisions about which people to trust based on their credibility and attention to facts. She appeared reserved and even unfriendly initially. After the formalities, he was pleasantly surprised to see that she warmed up and talked enthusiastically about potential cost-saving initiatives. 

Gerald wanted his role in supporting the strategic direction of the company to be acknowledged. Through active listening and taking time to hear Gerald’s history, Bill learned that Gerald had some pride of ownership about the role that IT played in several important turning points during the company’s history. Gerald had been there through some stressful economic times for the company and had implemented technology solutions that enabled the company to grow its product line, revenue base, and team of employees. Once Bill was able to understand and credit some of the important growth points IT had enabled for the company, Gerald was willing to listen to Bill’s ideas about the software upgrade.

At first, Bill thought mainly about what was in it for him, namely impressing his peers and getting a big win in his new role. He nearly killed the deal.

Instead, he learned some hard lessons about trust and different communication styles. Bill learned some of the key ingredients required to build trust and communicate effectively with different styles. He learned quickly by tapping into several resources simultaneously, including working with an executive coach and reading books on leadership and communication. He discovered that empathy, integrity, and humility were important traits that he had overlooked in his rush to succeed.

One of Bill’s most surprising take-aways was that trust is built, at least in part, on a willingness to be vulnerable. His willingness to admit his mistake was a vulnerable moment for him, yet he realized the opportunity inherent in taking that risk. Succeeding in his new role was important to him. He was afraid of the damage to his reputation and career should he fail in this opportunity, so he decided instead to dig deep into his ability to grow as a professional.

As a result, Bill slowed down and observed what was important to his peers. He started to ask himself questions from their perspective. What goals were important?  What points of pride did they take in their contribution to the company? How did they process new information? What was in it for them?

Bill’s proposal for the new software was adopted, with a few important modifications and improvements suggested by Mary and Gerard. His successful proposal not only helped the company to expand as he foresaw, but he also gained a new level of mastery in communication that he hadn’t expected.

Bill learned what great leaders already know: building trust, active listening and respecting other communication styles created big wins for himself and his company.

Kathleen Winsor-Games is the principal of The Winsor Group, a Denver-based firm offering leadership development, team building, and career coaching. See our blog at

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