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The psychology of influence: How to get your recommendations heard

13th Aug 2019
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Want to influence but feel like the rest of the business just isn’t listening? AccountingWEB’s FD columnist Andy Shambrook reveals the secret to getting your recommendations heard without limiting your influence. 

In previous columns for AccountingWEB, I’ve talked about the worst advice I ever got as a fledgling finance professional: every CFO or FD I ever worked for told me to ‘challenge the business’ and 'make recommendations'.

The intention was pure, obviously -- and I can’t judge: even as a FD myself, I gave the same advice. When I became a sales director, after working as a FD, I learned the psychology of influence, and realised how wrong we had got it in finance.

I now call these the myths of business partnering. So far I’ve looked at the first two myths:

Myth one: Our job is to partner the business - Here we saw how this much creates an unhelpful us and them situation, and we talked about what to do instead. 

Myth two: Our job is to challenge 'the business' - Here we saw how challenge can make people defensive and create unnecessary resistance.

And now onto Myth three: To influence we must make recommendations

As I see it, there are three big problems with making recommendations. 

Problem one: No one likes to be told what to do, especially by finance

And you know this because how do you feel about recommendations from the auditors? Or from HR? Or the expensive consultants that just asked you a load of questions, turned them into a flash presentation, and told your executives what you’ve been telling them for years?

I'm sorry to tell you this, but that's how sales, marketing, and operations often feel about you and your advice. That’s a harsh truth, but I wish people had told me this when I worked in finance.

I had to become a sales director and experience 'recommendations' from my old finance team (who I had trained and led to do that by the way) to realise. And what I realised very fast in sales was that recommendations create resistance and limit your ability to influence.

Problem two: Not invented here syndrome

At work this is even more of an issue, as everyone is keen to show their value and to control and defend their area. Going with other people’s ideas is a problem for some. Because we see it as saying that the other person adds more value than us.

If you’re getting resistance, it probably isn’t because your idea is bad. It’s probably because the other person didn’t come up with it themselves.

Problem three: People don't really want our opinion

This is probably the biggest problem with making recommendations: most of the time people don’t actually want your opinion, even when they ask you for it.

When people ask for your opinion, they don’t actually want your opinion? Are you crazy? Of course people want my opinion, I'm finance. I'm a subject matter expert. And they've just asked me.

The thing is, even though they asked for your opinion, what are they actually looking for? Validation of their own opinion. If your view matches theirs, all good. If not, you’ve got the start of a resistance.

What did I learn in sales?

I learned that if you want to create resistance with someone really quickly, kill your rapport with them, and limit your influence, just shoot off the hip and make a recommendation.

So what do I do instead?

One: Before giving your opinion, find out what the other person thinks

It’ll help you build rapport. And you’ll find out how far apart your view and their view is, allowing you to plan your approach. And also, you might well learn something new that changes your view and that's the real value here.

Because I've been using this approach for over 10 years now, and every time I learn something new that changes my view.

Two: Let the other person think it’s their idea

This is a big one because it means not taking personal credit, at least not immediately and directly. Ask questions, float solutions, and seed new ideas to create the recommendation together. Let the other person come up with the final recommendation.

Sure you may feel like you miss out on the credit there and then, but what happens is you become known as someone who helps people (good karma), rather than tells them what you think they should do (bad karma).

You'll get involved in more stuff, and your influence will soar.

Final thought

So the next time you want to influence, don’t recommend your fully worked-though, costed out, analysed solution. Instead, have a coffee and a chat.

Find out what the other person is thinking and if you want to get really advanced, feeling. Perhaps go with a part-worked through idea and ask for their help and input to shaping it. Create together, so the other person makes your recommendation to you.

Now that’s a totally different level of influence, reserved for the elite.

Replies (2)

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By matthewleitch
15th Aug 2019 10:19

There are several aspects of the above advice I would not follow but the two I will pick out are these: (1) "Let the other person think it's their idea." No. I won't do that because it's dishonest. (2) "Instead, have a coffee and a chat." No. We might have a coffee and a chat before or after the business meeting but when we're working we're working. One of the worst aspects of using friendly behaviours and suggestion to get your way is that, if you're detected doing it, the loss of trust is considerable.

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By pverco
15th Aug 2019 11:43

Great article Andy. I have evolved a similar approach over the years, and it generates far more influence than the traditional command and control approach. Not only does it offload the development and planning work, but it gains creative input from the area of the business that has the greatest expertise in that idea.
Of course, many will be uncomfortable allowing credit to pass, or god forbid, to entertain ideas outside Finance. After all, Finance have the fully documented plan, and only need to know that you can do your part. How could that possibly go wrong?

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