Office politics #2

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The Independent Online

It's been another frustrating day. Your boss seems to be completely out of touch with what's going on in the team. She must be, otherwise she wouldn't behave the way she does. Well, she certainly stirred up a hornet's nest this time. You wouldn't mind so much, but you've been trying to tell her all along that she's wrong on this one. Still, it's not the first time, and it certainly won't be the last. Perhaps if she didn't have that listening problem...! Or is it you that has a problem in getting your point across?

Influence what you can...

Positive, proactive people focus on areas in which they can have impact. By contrast, negative, reactive people spend a lot of time worrying and whingeing about things they can't do anything about. Or at least, that's the way it appears to them. But are they really powerless? There are a lot of things in this world that you can influence, it's really a question of understanding what they are, being clear about your priorities and letting go of the things you can't change. Make a list of all your frustrations - at work and at home. Then go through this list thinking about how much control you have. Is there anything you can do to alter the situation for the better? Really challenge yourself. Many people surprise themselves when they do this exercise, because they start to realise that they could have more impact than they ever thought possible. It's just a question of understanding how.

Know who to influence...

So, you need to make something happen, get somebody to change their mind or convey an important point. Are you sure the person you've targeted is the one who can actually make the difference? If it's a question of referring something up the line, office politics dictate that it's wisest first to go to your immediate boss, rather than over their head. But remember, if they have to push it further up the line, you have two challenges: you'll need to convince them first, and give them the ammunition and the confidence they need to take your cause to their boss.

And how to influence them...

If you want to make people listen, you have to know what motivates them. Be aware of your audience and how they like to operate. If you're dealing with someone who is very thorough, does a lot of analysis and doesn't feel comfortable without all the facts and figures immediately to hand, you'll have to do your homework and construct a strong, logical case. If, on the other hand, they're fast, decisive and very focused on goals, your argument will be to be concise, positive and couched in terms of what can be achieved. It's not just a question of style, however. The content of your argument is equally important. Why should they do what you want them to do? Really try to get inside the head of the person you want to influence. How will they react to the various messages and demands you are about to communicate to them? What's positive and should be emphasised? What aren't they going to like? Is there anything you can do or say to minimise the downside? And don't forget to think through what's in it for them. People react far better if they stand to gain something - no matter how small! Above all, don't just wade in. It's really important to think it through - even if it's just for a few minutes. Follow this advice and you're likely to become the sort of person who really has impact.

John Nicholson and Jane Clarke are directors of Nicholson McBride, the business psychology consultancy.