How Relationships Can Help Make You More Influential

Many years ago, as a new office worker, I complained to my father about the politics of my office and how much I hated them. I just wanted to do good work and forget about the rest. He quickly replied that it wasn't possible not to be involved in office politics; it was just part of life. Politics were everywhere, not only in the office, so my best bet was to learn to manage them. A big part of effectively managing office politics is building my influence muscle so that I can get things done when I need to.

Because I want to become more influential, relationships are my goal. I don't mean building relationships with the purpose of building myself up and manipulating things for my advantage. Instead, I want to build relationships for the good of the team as well as myself, to make working together happen more smoothly. These types of relationships are the cornerstone of influence, and I've learned just how necessary they are to being an influential person who gets things done.

Building influence

100 years ago (1918) Charles Riborg Mann published his findings in a Study of Engineering Education. Since then, Harvard University, the Carnegie Foundation, and Stanford Research Center have come to the same conclusion: 85% of job success comes from having well-developed soft and people skills, and only 15% of job success comes from technical skills and knowledge.

Think about that - I can be incredibly skilled and knowledgeable in the technical areas of my job, but I won't be successful unless I get along well with other people. In reflecting on this, I realized that it is the reason why I didn't feel like I had thoroughly learned my current job until I had been doing it for a year. I had all of the skills I needed to develop instruction and do my work, but it took a year for me to really build relationships with all of my stakeholders, understand their needs, know where I could push a little more, and know when I should back off a bit. I learned what I needed to do to meet my stakeholders' needs, and who to go to when I needed something.

Sure, you can sit down and look at an organizational chart, but that doesn't tell you who can get things done, nor what people need from you. A lot of people think influence comes from the organizational chart - the higher up you are, the more influential you are. That is true, but it is also the weakest type of influence in the office because it is quite restrictive and incredibly hard to change. A CEO who hasn't gotten to know his team and others in the organization is going to be far less effective than one who has taken the time to build relationships throughout the organization.

Learn how to maximize the impact of your influence. Attend Elaine's session at ICMI Contact Center Expo, May 21-24 in Orlando.

If the CEO wants to throw a switch to get a machine going, he can command that it be done, but unless he tells the right person to throw the switch, nothing will happen. It is the person who knows where the switch is and who knows what to do first to prevent the machine from blowing who has far more influence in this situation.

We see this happen all the time in organizations. In the contact center world, it is what happens when Marketing sends out a flyer without letting the contact center know ahead of time, and suddenly the center is inundated with calls and service level plummets. It's when the company is rebranding a product or service and gives training a week to rebrand everything in the curriculum when it really takes a month to identify and change everything. It's when IT makes a "minor" change to systems while I am out-of-town, and I can't get the message out to others promptly. I build my influence when I get to know people in marketing, IT, finance, and other departments, and they get to know me. Formal channels of communication are great, but informal ones often uncover needs before they become crises.

You have to get to know the people behind the organizational chart to have influence. You have to know the person who knows how to throw the switch you need to be thrown safely. And if you have built a relationship with that person, they are much more likely to get around to throwing that switch sooner rather than later. Requests from a "stranger" often get put behind the requests from people we know because we understand the impact those requests will have on the people we know. That's influence.

In a webinar on office politics yesterday, we were told that relationships are a secret weapon. They can influence without organizational structure, and they can tap into the emotional part of the brain that helps get things done. Building human connections will make you more effective - and happier. Balance building good relationships with doing good work to be more influential and get things done when they need to be done.


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