To increase your influence, cultivate your credibility

Workplace clout has its foundations in professional integrity, practical knowledge and personal rapport with your colleagues.

It’s fascinating when I hold an influence class for a client, and ask, “What can you do to build influence?” Here are some of the answers I normally get:

  • Do good work.
  • Work hard—“keep my nose to the grindstone.”
  • Put in the hours.

The things on this list aren’t enough anymore, and for a simple reason. Look around in the workplace. What do you see? Probably a bunch of people who do good work, work hard and put in the hours. The question you need to ask is, “How do I distinguish myself from others?” The answer is simple to say, but it will take time to implement. You need a plan.

Influence is driven by your level of credibility. What makes you credible? Being knowledgeable, trustworthy, confident, competent, consistent, empathetic? I’m sure you have these traits and more. Unfortunately, they don’t make you credible to others. It is other people’s recognition of those traits that has everything to do with the amount of influence you have. You need a plan to figure out how to get others to recognize these traits within you.

How do you do that? Use rapport. Rapport allows you, in whatever situations you face, to generate credibility, whether you are working one to one or one to group. Rapport is about communication and relationship. It is the way in which we work to create connections with others.

Each tool helps build the other, but if you’re looking for cause and effect (and the effect you want is more influence), rapport can help build your credibility. When I talk about needing a plan, it isn’t a strategic plan for the next 365 days. It’s the plan you need before the next meeting you attend or run. It is the plan you need before you pick up the phone. It is the plan you need whenever you interact with others. It’s asking yourself, “How do I navigate this (meeting, event, phone call, interaction) so I will get the results I want?”

It could be as simple as forcing yourself to speak up in the meeting (which may not be simple if you’re wired as someone who needs to think through concepts before they speak). It could be as simple as finding a way to give credit to your team after surpassing a milestone. It could be as simple as helping a colleague brainstorm around a challenge they are facing.

Use rapport to leverage credibility by networking

We think of our network as the list of the people we know. That’s not entirely true, and here’s the proof. During the last couple of years of economic uncertainty, did anyone come to you and say, “I’m not asking you to get me a job, but could you pass my résumé on to someone in your company”? What did you do with that résumé? Add a cover note to your CEO and send it along? Of course not. But I bet you wondered, “Who do I know who might take a look at this or have an informational interview with this person?” You thought of the people that you had some currency with, those who would be willing to do this for you.

In reality, your network is made up of not only the people you know but, more important, the people who know you—those you have currency with. In his book “Endless Referrals,” Bob Burg describes networking as being known, valued and trusted. That’s the currency I’m talking about.

This takes a plan. How can I be more known? Start by asking these two questions:

  • Who do I need to know?
  • Who needs to know me?

While attending my class on influence, someone asked those questions several months before embarking on an international assignment. She decided that she needed to get her manager to set up introductions with the functional managers at the new location. She identified exactly who she needed to know, and what questions she would ask in the interviews she conducted. Her intent was to create influence with key players before she showed up for the first day of her new assignment. This turned out to be a very successful plan for “easing the way” into her new work team.

What else you could you do to be more known? Here are a few ideas: volunteer (internally or externally), mentor or coach, speak up, present internally or externally, get credit, give credit and, yes, even mess up (particularly if there are lessons that could help others).

How can I be more valued? This process starts with knowing what others value. Whether individually or organizationally, this knowledge can help guide your actions in a way that yields influence. It starts with a “say/do ratio of 1,” in other words, say what you’ll do, then do what you’ve said. Get and give clear expectations, again, individually or organizationally.

Six years ago, IBM commissioned a study of 1,500 CEOs, asking them the quality they looked for in the subordinates they valued the most. Their answer (and very time-in-history related) was creative disruption—their belief that (1) there are too many “yes men” and “yes women” in the business world, when what they need is the truth, and (2) too many “cash cows” and “sacred cows” that ought to get challenged but are not because “that’s not the way we do things here.”

Play “devil’s advocate” —unless it isn’t respected in your organization. Be a proxy for your boss: If situations come up where you could be a replacement or fill-in for your boss, you create value for him or her, and you’ll get exposed to an audience you might not normally come into contact with. (Again, be politically astute. If your boss is threatened by the space you inhabit, this is not a wise move.)

A lot of people in my classes say, “become a subject matter expert.” I love that, but not for the reason you think. I think most of us are already SMEs, particularly as it applies to our jobs. Here is where you need to think about this more deeply. I will rarely advocate the need to go back to school, get an advanced degree or add more certifications—although all of those are valuable. I don’t think it’s fair to tell someone, “Work harder.”

Planning allows you to work smarter—and I’m not saying it’s easy. Work to find those who will value what you know and/or what you do. That’s a clearer path to being valued.

Countless books have been written about building trust with others, and many of the tools to build trust have already been noted: say/do ratio, clear expectations, and creative disruption, to name a few. Accountability is a biggie—admit mistakes, take ownership for the good and the bad, apologize when needed. Don’t gossip, have other people’s backs, and be nice.

There’s a word that everyone has to be better with: “no.” People think the path to building influence is paved with the word “yes.” That may work fine until one says “yes,” overcommits and drops the ball. We’ve all done that. When the ball gets dropped, regardless of how good your intentions were, does the trust go up? Of course not.

What would have happened if you had said “no” instead? The other person would have found a way to get done what they needed, and long term would think nothing less of you. Your honesty, if that “no” comes in the form of “if it were any other time, I’d help but I can’t right now because I’m crushed with my own work,” actually results in trust going up.

Summary

If you want more influence, you need to have a plan. The plan is about how you will go about building your credibility with others. Credibility is directly related to the amount of influence you have: the more credibility, the greater the influence.

Every time you are one to one or one to group, you have a chance to build credibility with others. That’s what rapport is. Anyone can do it. Be known, valued and trusted by others. That builds the currency you need to have more influence.

Joe Friedman is a Ragan Consulting Group affiliate and a principal of Zehren Friedman Associates Ltd. He travels the globe, spending 100+ days a year in the classroom, helping clients to sell, present, negotiate and influence better. Contact Kristin Hart kristin.hart@raganconsulting.com to learn more about RCG.

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