Fundamentals of Influence: Taking Control

taking_controlIn a workshop recently I invited the participants to each bring to mind a scenario in their work where they want to influence a particular outcome. One lady, Siobhan, explained that she felt stuck in a demanding specialist role. The only way forward she could envisage was to secure a new resource to ‘back-fill’, so she could free up time to get involved in other things. She had tried several ways to secure this additional resource and none had been successful, so she was keen to find some new ways of going about it.

We explored the ‘additional resource’ conundrum with members of the group coaching her to consider, and even suggest, different approaches:

  • Is there someone else you can ask?
  • Have you tried putting together a business case?
  • How about proposing a secondment position?
  • And so on…

Siobhan still seemed stuck and we could see the physical manifestations of her mounting frustration. Finally, someone asked the question:

 “What is it you want to move onto?”

Siobhan paused for quite a long time, slowly shaking her head. It had not occurred to her to think about what she might move onto, or even what opportunities might be available to her. When she finally spoke it was to say was there were no alternative opportunities for her because her role is too specialist.

The group generously gave Siobhan the space to further consider the possibilities. By the end of the day her demeanour had brightened considerably and she was resolved to decide for herself what it is she really wants for herself.

Siobhan’s example highlights some key principles of influence and buy-in:

  1. Start by identifying what you really want.

There is no doubt that Siobhan could have used some extra resource, but she had settled on that particular solution without identifying the true goal. Once she has considered the ‘bigger picture’ in terms of the next steps for her career, there will be other, more relevant and important things that she needs to influence and gain buy-in for.

  1. Pick the part that is within your ‘sphere of influence’

Siobhan had tried several ways to make a case for that extra resource, but ultimately it was never totally within her remit to make the final decision. In deciding to focus on what she wants next from her career, she was able to take back control, because this is firmly within her sphere of influence. Consequently she feels more resourceful and positive about this course of action.

  1. Know when to let go

Siobhan knew in her heart that the additional resource was not going to be forthcoming. It’s quite possible she held on to the hope for longer than was helpful – particularly given the effect it was having on her. Sometimes we get what we want and other times we don’t, and to preserve our own sanity it can be helpful to have an instinct for when to walk away.

This oft-quoted nugget from Reinhold Niebuhr comes to mind:

“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

Call to action

Bring to mind a scenario where you want to gain buy-in from someone else. Consider:

  • What do you want to achieve?
  • In contemplating possible approaches, what can you do that is within your sphere of influence?
  • How do the answers to the above two questions shape your approach?


Helen Krag is a Senior Consultant at People Development Team.

To find out more about how PDT’s modular women’s leadership programmes can help you to enhance your personal sphere of influence, click here Enhanced Personal Influence