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Leadership Edge: The Truth About Influencing and Negotiating

Influencing and Negotiating

Getting results without authority, negotiating the best outcome, and influencing peers and superiors is no longer just for professional mediators, attorneys, or UN peace-keepers. We all need these skills right at our workplaces, and they are worth practicing daily.

Organizations where influencing and negotiation skills are strong are able to create lasting changes, attract the best talent, and deliver their best products and services.


Don’t Negotiate for Your Direct Reports

Samantha runs a marketing department at a manufacturing company. The company recently restructured and department leaders are now expected to collaborate.

Samantha is working with her team on a marketing campaign to promote a new product and has contacted Tom, the product department leader, to send her some information on the new product so her team can develop campaign content. Tom responded that he is “too busy” with the upcoming deadline to turn his attention to Samantha’s request at the moment.

What’s Samantha to do? As usual, she goes to her boss, Dave, to ask for help. Dave can feel her pain, he’s helped her in the past to push things through with Tom and others, but the time has come for her to find a way to work with Tom on her own.

Familiar story?

This happens over and over, even in companies that intend to encourage more independent, collaborative work styles and their mid-level leaders’ ability to influence others without authority.

Here are four key areas to address in order to break this cycle.

1. Become an Organization of Empowered Adults

Imagine yourself in Samantha’s shoes. If you always went to Dave with every problem you’ve encountered and always got help, you would understandably be at a loss when he suddenly tells you to go solve the problems on your own.

This “parent-child” dynamic between the boss and their direct report worked well decades ago, when direct reports weren’t well-trained and needed to be continuously told what to do and how to do it. These days, many hires already have the right experience and are able to do their jobs independently from the start or shortly after an initial period of training.

The boss, on the other hand, often doesn’t know every intricate detail of each specialty. Dave, Samantha’s boss, has an MBA and lots of manufacturing experience. He rose through the ranks improving supply chain and quality. Marketing was the last thing on his mind until he was tapped to join the C-suite. What does he truly know about drip campaigns and buyer personas?

It’s time for workers at all levels to let go of this dependent mentality and take ownership of their work. Being an empowered adult means you choose how to think and act when interacting with others.

Even though Samantha still reports to Dave, she needs to approach her work with him and others as a joint effort to run the business, as opposed to focusing on pleasing the boss.

2. Map Your Sphere of Influence and Span of Accountability

Once an individual accepts accountability for the outcomes that are part of her assignments, for the outcomes of the teams she is on, and once she aligns her accountability with the goals of the organization as a whole, she has built a sphere of influence that will help her influence and negotiate with others.

Samantha has organizational accountability for the success of the company’s marketing efforts, as do the other leaders she needs to interact with to get the job done. So, her accountability and theirs overlap, which means they share a common goal. Having a shared goal is an important element of influencing and negotiating, and shared accountability is the key to creating that overlapping sphere of influence. Now, when Samantha approaches other leaders about helping in her marketing campaign, they listen, because they have a stake in the game as well. One of the people Samantha needs in order to achieve her individual accountability is Tom.

If Tom doesn’t do his part, the quality of Samantha’s work will suffer. But since Tom and Samantha share accountability for the outcomes of the team they are on together, Tom won’t be successful either if Samantha can’t produce her outputs. If Samantha and Tom focus on only their own jobs, the company won’t sell as many new products as it potentially can.

Leadership Edge - Sphere of Influence v2

When she thought about her situation that way, Samantha immediately knew just what to say to Tom to get him to send her the product information he refused to send earlier. The campaign Samantha is building needs to have accurate information about the product and it also has a deadline. The customers won’t know the product is released unless Samantha and Tom coordinate their efforts.

3. Negotiate, Don’t Manipulate

Influencing and negotiating are new skills for many leaders and professionals who have delegated and directed their way to their current jobs. Some may even dismiss negotiation or persuasive communication techniques as manipulative. Even though manipulative tactics, such as silence or misinformation, do exist, what we mean by influencing and negotiating here are skills that enable people to make use of their knowledge and expertise to create value for the organization.

When Samantha went over to talk to Tom about why she needed product information sooner rather than later, she found him working on a quarterly report. Tom prioritized the report with the mindset that Dave (also his boss) will be most pleased that the report is submitted in time for a senior executives’ strategic retreat. After Samantha explained what was needed for her campaign, it turned out that they are better off working on the report together. Lots of product information from the report can be used for Samantha’s campaign, and Samantha has customer data that can be used in the report.

4. Build Partnerships

Partnerships make organizational changes stick. Once a strong stakeholder relationship is formed, once there’s buy-in, it is easy to continue to collaborate and to always have the overall organizational goals in mind. There’s a lot of work upfront to build each partnership, but this work makes any future interactions much smoother.

Samantha and Tom saw the value of co-creating the quarterly report and marketing campaign. They both have wound up with much better outcomes than they would have had they continued to work in silos. This first successful collaboration became the foundation of Tom and Samantha’s partnership.

They have grown to trust and respect each other and are now able to focus on win/win solutions, not just for one another but for the company as a whole. When the company’s R&D team came up with a new product proposal, Samantha and Tom became an integral part of the steering team to develop a product that customers truly wanted.

And what about Dave? Well, he can now rely on his direct reports to work together without having to get in the middle of things all the time. What a relief!

Learn More:

Times have changed and so has leadership. Leaders who have become successful in organizations that struggle with the changing business environment need to look at building new skills and making important shifts. Explore those skills and shifts in Matrix Management Reinvented Book 2: The 7 Shifts Needed to Be a Successful Matrix Leader.

Mistina Picciano

As Managing Editor of OD Innovator, Mistina Picciano combines her passions for communication and peak performance. She researches and writes about leading practices to help individuals and organizations realize their greatest potential.