6 Ways to Exert More Influence at Work

by Salary.com Staff - Original publish date: June 20, 2012

Getting Respect from Bullies to Bosses

Ever feel like the late comedian Rodney Dangerfield -- that no matter what you do at work you just "can’t get no respect?"

From the bully in the cubicle next to you to a boss who seems oblivious to your accomplishments to the people reporting to you who are loathe to make any tough decisions themselves, your day at the office carries more baggage than the annual Thanksgiving dinner at the in-laws. Yet every moment of the day when we are interacting with other human beings, there is an opportunity -- if not a pressing need -- to assert our influence and move closer to our various goals by cooperation of others. 

What follows is a list of five circumstances in which you may find yourself interacting with the incumbent players and actors these situations feature, any of which can either stand in the way or provide critical support for your various goals and objectives. 

Entire books could be written about each of these situations, but my goal was to give you at least one way of exerting influence that tilts the odds of success in each of these situations or contexts in your favor. You're well advised to seek out additional resources, but the following should give you a start.

1. Influence with Bullies

Whether you work for one, have one on your team, or live with one, bullies can make life miserable, send productivity and morale at work into a tail-spin, and cause lasting psychological damage to victims of such harassment.

Some causes for bullying have been identified as poor problem solving skills, low self-esteem, as well as the drive for power, status and even affection.

While you don’t want to respond to a bully’s aggressive behavior in kind -- meaning you lash out in the same way -- it can be effective to call the bully on unacceptable behavior and let it be known you are documenting each incident of the harassment you experience. Keep your emotions in check and respond calmly and with reason to bullies. Seek feedback from your professional and social network and bolster your ranks of allies, so that when it comes to a showdown you have solid support, not to mention witnesses on your side. Bullies often display poor emotional intelligence and a lack of effective problem-solving in interpersonal conflicts and relationships in general. Improving your own emotional intelligence by better managing your emotions in response to bullying and approaching relationship strife in creative ways will help you become a less attractive victim to the bully.    

If you’re in a supervisory situation, make clear that you will not tolerate bullying from anyone, and that you will set and enforce a standard of respectful behavior in the workplace. Incorporate emotional intelligence components when training new hires and new leaders, and intervene immediately to disrupt any bullying behaviors.

Finally, lead by example. Treat colleagues with respect, and  model the behavior for others to follow.

2. Influence in Meetings

Meetings -- from online to in-person gatherings -- are a necessary byproduct of business and the professions. And whatever the objective for the meeting, one critical aspect whether you lead or participate is that you want others to pay attention to what you have to say. Here’s an influencing strategy that’ll help increase your chances of that happening in your next meeting.

Scientists call it the 'recency' effect which means that we are wired to pay particular attention to the most recent information, minimizing in importance any information received earlier. Imagine the scenario of your manager going around the table asking for input and your idea gets heard somewhere half-way around the group; the best way to take advantage of the recency effect then is to take the opportunity at the end when everyone was heard, to reiterate your point by restating it in a different way -- leaving the group to hear your idea as the most recent and most focused on.

Whether it's a decision you want others to make, an important feature you want to highlight or a call to action you want others to heed, to be most influential it pays to have the last word.

3. Influence in Teams

The old cliche "there is no I in team" might be correct in literal terms, but as anyone who's ever been a part of team knows, teams are always made up of individuals; each with their own style, cultural background, experience, and preference for how to work. One way to exert influence in teams is to make sure attendant differences and diversity serve as sources of creativity and out-of-the-box thinking and where various perspectives are highly valued.  

Gender balance in mixed teams is also something to watch for to increase team influence. Research shows that teams where neither gender's presence serves as tokenism -- i.e. one woman on a team of seven, and where no-one feels like a minority -- perform much better than those where gender imbalance is obvious. If you can staff or at least recommend teams with a gender ratio of at least 60-40, chances for team success increase profoundly.

4. Influence with Peers

We all know and criticize those who talk too much, but how often are people criticized for listening too much? It’s unheard of, because most of us lean towards talking rather than listening.

A rarely employed skill then, active listening, and one you can employ with ease to influence your peers. Start by paying attention to their body language, the attitude in the tone of their voice, and listen for meaning as you concentrate on what they’re saying. Respond with appropriate comments, as questions and confirm with the speaker that you understand what she is saying. Skip jumping to conclusions in favor of hearing the speaker’s conclusions, but feel empowered to reflect on what the speaker is saying and, again, ask for clarification when needed. 

Keep in mind, too, that everyone comes to work with their own set of experiences and perceptual filters, and don’t assume in haste that everyone else shares your worldview. Be conscientious in respecting the individuality of your peers and don’t let your personal differences turn into professional disagreements. Attention and respect are some of the most influential communication strategies you can employ with your peers.

5. Influence with Peers

Workers tend to be both happier and more productive the more autonomy they're given -- but what counts as autonomy may vary across organizational and national cultures. 

To have more influence with direct reports it makes good sense to focus on autonomy as an important contributor to productivity and success.

In this context a manager could give a group autonomy to organize themselves in order to meet important objectives; one could also discuss with an individual contributor what standards should be set and how the contributor expects to meet them. Another scenario would look at how teams might work with supervisors both in defining goals and determining how to meet them. The overall goal should be to give people a sense of freedom and control in their contributions, so you need to devise ways that fit your organizational culture and objectives. 

Autonomy can work hand-in-hand with accountability, mainly by empowering people to meet and report on their own progress toward set standards. Your interactions with employees and colleagues will be far more productive if you treat them as partners in achieving goals and give them the resources to do so.

6. Influence with Bosses

Engage your boss. Come out from that far cubicle and demonstrate that your work is connected to her goals. Whether you’re a new hire or a veteran employee, ask to meet with her to discuss what she wants the organization to achieve, and suggest ways in which you can aid in that achievement.

We often go to bosses for feedback on our behavior -- and it’s important to do so on an ongoing basis -- but instead of asking her to review you, offer to review yourself. In other words, don’t wait for her to notice you, but put yourself forward and make yourself known.

This isn’t about "kissing up," but about recognizing and respecting her leadership. She’ll have her own agenda (everybody does!) within the organization, so your ability to work with her in carrying that agenda forth will mark you as a reliable colleague. Furthermore, by working with your boss in an ongoing fashion, if you do err she is likely to see that in context of all the good work you’ve done -- rather than noticing you only when you make a mistake. 

Make yourself visible, offer yourself as reliable, and when an important project or promotional opportunity arises, she’ll think of you.

Influence Your Way to Success

This list may not make your family holidays any easier, but as far as getting some respect at the office, you just may have a shot at success.

Recommended Reading

Thank you for reading. We hope you enjoyed this article and as an added bonus, the Salary.com editorial staff has compiled a recommended reading list:

  • 360 Degrees of Influence: Get Everyone to Follow Your Lead on Your Way to the Top
  • Executive Presence: The Art of Commanding Respect Like a CEO
  • The Power of Presence: Unlock Your Potential to Influence and Engage Others
  • Creating Personal Preference: Look, Talk, Think & Act Like a Leader