Quality Face-to-Face Time is the Secret Sauce of Good Communications


(Reprinted from November, 2015)

“I was becoming frustrated,” explained a manager, “with my communications with staff at distant sites.  Several times I thought we had agreed on a way forward only to discover they misinterpreted my intentions.”

The manager began backing up his electronic messages with phone calls and while that helped, misunderstandings continued.  Later, the manager added video conferencing which helped but did not eliminate missteps.

“Eventually,” the manager said, “I started visiting the sites on a regular basis to talk personally with staff.  I was amazed at how much better we got at resolving and preventing customer-related issues.  Even though the site visits required considerable time and energy, they were well worth the effort.”

To communicate effectively, visit staff members at their work stations when there is no reason to be there.  Travel to your customer’s locations; invite your customers to your facilities. If you perceive conflicts with colleagues, drag your physical self to their offices and talk with them.

Consider town-hall meeting with large groups of employees.  Encourage them to ask questions and respond to all.  Deliver the bad news as well as the good.

I recall asking a group of employees if their managers ever visited their work areas.  “Yes,” said one.  “But when work is going smoothly, we never see them.  We make one mistake and they come out of the wood work.”

Do not wait until problems arise.  An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.  Engage others, preferably at their work stations, on a regular basis.  Face-to-face communication does not guarantee perfect understanding but it vastly improves your odds.

The “Lost Opportunity” Influence Attempt


(Part 5 of 5 on Increasing Influence)

A manager said to one of his account executives.  “If you will agree to deliver your service at no commission, we can get a second contract that is quite profitable.”

“Why should I do that?  I will not be the one to deliver the profitable service.  Someone else will benefit from my sacrifice.”

“True.  But our division will generate a lot more revenue due to your cooperation.  If you refuse to cooperate, you will lose an opportunity for a nice financial gain at the end of the year.”

This manager’s influence effort threatens the account executive by pointing out how lack of cooperation will result a lost benefit.

Other examples:  “If your absentee rate continues, you will lose the opportunity to work here.”  “If you continue to be out of compliance, you will lose revenue due to heavy fines.”  “If you do not honor the guarantee, you will lose a lot of business from this customer.”

Threats and fear influence attempts are distasteful for most of us.  And there may sometimes be nasty side effects.  For these reasons, I think the “lost opportunity” justification should be employed infrequently and only after other influence attempts have failed.

 

Use “Social Proofs” to Increase Influence


(Part 4 of 5 on Increasing Influence)

A company survey revealed that almost fifty percent of its employees were occasionally out of compliance with its eye protection policy.

Violators gave many excuses:  “I wasn’t in the area very long.”  “The glasses give me a headache.” “They blur my vision.” “I just forgot.”

To increase compliance, management toughened its disciplinary policy, posted pictures of nasty eye injuries, and displayed “reminders” in every nook and cranny.  After a few weeks, compliance increased a meager five percent.

Management changed its influence tactics to stress examples of success such as:  “An accident-free competitor reports that ninety-eight percent of its employees comply with eye protection requirements,” and “The plant with the best safety record in our industry reveals that eighty-five percent of its employees like their wrap around eye protection.”

A few weeks of this campaign showed a seventy-three percent improvement rate.

The successful influence attempt used the concept of “social proof,” where individuals strive to mimic the actions of others.   Most employees have a social need that motivates them to adopt behaviors of successful peers and authorities.

Industry best practices, testimonials, ratings, certifications and the like influence our behaviors because they are manifestations of social proof.

Increase Your Influence by Becoming More Likeable


(Part 3 of 5 on Increasing Influence)

“Harriet gets others to cooperate on projects when no one else can,” commented a peer.

“It’s true,” said another.  “Peers, employees in other departments and even customers and vendors go out of their way to help her.”

“Everyone likes Harriet.”

When asked why Harriet had so much influence, acquaintances responded:

“She is very understanding and always takes an interest in what you are doing.”

“She is a genuine person.  What you see is what you get.”

“She does not draw attention to herself, but she is very confident in her abilities.”

“Harriet is open-minded and good-natured.”

“Harriet is calm and consistent; never seems to get ruffled.”

In other words, Harriet is a person that is easy to like and likeable people are more influential.  When given a choice of helping a repugnant person with a high-value request and a likeable person with a less-valued request, almost two-thirds of employees prioritize the “likeable” request over the “repugnant.”

To increase your influence, behave in ways that are more winsome.  Ask questions.  Listen.  Discuss common interests.  Offer support.  Acknowledge others.  Be quick to give credit. Be a good neighbor.

But always remember, these behaviors make you more attractive only if they are genuine.

 

Use Rational Persuasion to Increase Your Influence


Part 2 of 5 on Increasing Influence

To complete his compliance reports, Gael needed data from Rochelle, an employee in another department.  Although Rochelle was very conscientious, Gael knew that she was immersed in a high-priority project for her boss.

“Rochelle, I will need data from you on Compliance Form 1049 by the tenth of the month.”

“Gael, I’m very busy right now.  Can I get it to you later?”

“I’ll need it by the tenth so that I can get all reports compiled and submitted by the twelfth.”

“Can someone else get what you need?”

“Not really.  The information is very sensitive and you are the gatekeeper.  As you may be aware, last year’s mishaps put us on probation.  Your data will ensure that we meet all of the auditors’ standards.   Compliance will allow us to continue providing our great service to the community without interruption.”

Gael’s communication to Rochelle illustrates an attempt to get another party to do something based on rational persuasion (sometimes called merit-based).  Rational persuasion connects the dots by explaining how a request serves departmental objectives, contributes to the company mission, and provides benefit to the community.

In everyday language, rational persuasion attempts meet the common-sense standard, “Explain what you need and why.”

 

Increase Your Influence via Reciprocity


(Part 1 of 5 on Increasing Influence)

“I have a dilemma,” Braylon confided to a friend.

“How so?”

“Araceli asked me to analyze three software programs for her department.”

“You are an expert on software.  What’s the dilemma?”

“Jaxson wants me to upgrade materials for his new-employee orientation program. I don’t have time to do a good job on both.”

“What are you going to do?”

“I think I’ll respond to Araceli’s request.  I’ll tell Jaxson my schedule is full.  He has something on file that he can use.”

“Are you sure that is the right priority?”

“I’m not sure but I can’t refuse Araceli’s request.  She saved my bacon last month.  She created very clever brochures that boosted attendance at our recognition dinner.”

Braylon is responding to the concept of reciprocity—responding to a positive action of another by repaying the person with a positive action.

Reciprocity is a powerful motivator.  To increase your influence, look for ways to help others.  Extend yourself to welcome new employees.  Be quick to share your skills with struggling team members.  Do not wait to be asked.  Anticipate and volunteer.

By adding value for others, you build a reservoir of goodwill.  When, in the future, you need to exert your influence, you are more likely to get “yes’s.”

 

Use Nudges to Influence Reluctant Responders


“I want to tell you a success story.  I became frustrated with an employee in another department.  I had to complete a monthly report which required information from the employee.  Often, the information was late or incomplete—frequently, both.”

“What did you do?”

“I talked with my boss, the employee, and the employee’s boss.  (I also complained to my spouse, in-laws and kids.)  All were supportive and the employee agreed to do better and did—but improvement was short-lived.”

“OK, what did you do next?”

“I heard a lecture on the value of professional nagging.  So I began sending the employee frequent, reminder texts and voice messages. Occasionally, I just dropped by to visit.  I was always pleasant and offered to help.  The employee has become much more responsive, and I think we actually get along better.”

Professors Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein, in their book NUDGE, describe how we can influence others’ behavior by gently reminding them of choices.  Managers at Google use nudges to help their employees eat healthier foods, invest better and improve teamwork.

Nudges are not shoves.  They are not demands.  Nudges high-light choices and may take the form of texts, posters, emails, signs, voice mails, drop-ins, seat-belt dinging and other forms of professional nagging.