Finding Supporters and Building Coalitions: Get Me What I Need

How do you convince people to do what you want them to do at work (or anywhere else, for that matter)?  Why does it seem that some people have that gift of rallying others to get things done?  It’s not just The Boss who convinces co-workers to do something.  In fact, in many organizations, management has far less influence than a well-respected colleague.

Last week, at Noetix, I delivered a management training session on this topic. It was pretty well-received by our employees, so I decided to reiterate some of my thoughts here.

Influencing people, presenting compelling arguments, building coalitions – these are all things that come fairly naturally to me.  After our HR Director asked me to provide this training session, I had to figure out what to say and found myself struggling to find the right words to describe my approach.  Like many people, I sometimes find it difficult to explain how to do something that comes easily to me.  It’s like asking a baseball player to explain how to hit a curve ball or asking a pianist to teach you to sight-read a piece of music.

After a little research on interpersonal networking, I discovered that there’s a whole science (with a lot of research behind it) on office politics and managing a network of colleagues and co-workers. For the most part, this science centers around two core concepts: power and influence.  In this context, the definitions of these terms are as follows:

  • Power – the ability to get someone to do what you want or the ability to make things happen in the way that you want
  • Influence – the result of exercising your power, expressed by how others respond (and adjust their behavior) to your power

Let’s explore some practical examples.

Power. What does it really mean and how can it help you?  Position power results from someone’s position in an organization.  Your boss has position power over you because she can create consequences that impact you.  Your manager can provide material rewards like a raise or a bonus, or negative consequences such as undesirable assignments or even employment termination.

There’s another kind of power: personal power.  If someone is well-respected or admired, they have power over others because people want to listen to them, and consider them likely to be on target with their insight.  If someone is particularly persuasive or convincing or believable, they also have power.  People will listen to them because their arguments are compelling.  And, if a co-worker is a recognized expert in some area, you’re likely to follow his or her lead in that area.

Influence. What does it really mean and how can it help you?  To be effective, you need to learn how to exercise influence upward (to your boss, her peers, her boss), laterally (to your peers and people at the same level in other departments), and, if you’re a manager, downward (to the people who report to you).  There are lots of influence techniques we all use every day.  We reason, we show friendliness, we bargain.  Sometimes, we resort to sticks instead of carrots: we threaten sanctions, cajole or even intimidate.  On occasion, we appeal to a higher authority.  Children do this, of course (“I’m going to tell Mommy!”), but we often see this in business, too – “You need to add this feature because I promised it to a customer”.  All of those actions have the same goal: to get someone to do what we want them to do.

How can you blend both power and influence to help you?  To be successful, you need to use your power to exert influence. Using “position power” isn’t always effective.  Any manager (and any parent) knows that “Because I said so!” isn’t a successful long-term approach for getting anyone to do anything.  Instead, we need to be a little more creative.  We use personal power to persuade others who also have power.  We seek out colleagues who are well-respected to try to convince them to be on our side.  We find an expert who will agree with our position and support it.  We divide and conquer: identify people who might disagree with us, isolate them, and try to convince them individually.  [This approach is closely related to “socializing the idea,” which sounds a lot nicer than “divide and conquer!”]

To successfully manage your network of co-workers, you need to understand the sources of power within that network.  Who are the experts?  Who is well respected?  Who respects you?  In addition, you need to try to understand the interests and objectives of others.  When you have that knowledge, you’ll be able to figure out the right techniques of influence to build consensus or gain allies.

A final (somewhat cautionary) word: use your power wisely.  You don’t want to end up like the bad parent or bad manager mentioned above. “Because I’m the boss” isn’t very compelling.  Maintain your integrity and your ethics as you work to find supporters and build coalitions.

For now…I’ll leave you with this thought:

To get what you need, first understand who has the real power in your organization.  Then, find them and use your power to persuade them.

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One Response to Finding Supporters and Building Coalitions: Get Me What I Need

  1. Parmeshta says:

    Well written! It’s always hard to put down on paper that which comes to us naturally. You did it in a very concisely.

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