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Skills to Influence Others in Local Government

Skills to Influence Others in Local Government

Skills to influence others are crucial to personal and professional success, especially in local government. At the elected official level, influencing skills directly impact your success at championing issues important to you and your community. At the management level, strong influencing skills make you a better leader and help ensure effective service delivery.

We influence others every day, whether we’re doing it intentionally or not. Every interaction is an opportunity to identify others’ behavioural and personality styles and learn how to optimize your influence. Effective influence requires an awareness of your natural style, plus effective skills to enable your influence to be received effectively. 

4 Styles Used to Influence Others in Local Government

Aggressive Driving Styles

Aggressive individuals like to use a fast pace and force to achieve outcomes. They are often comfortable in bargaining to achieve success, without needing to reflect or think quietly. 

Passive “Pulling” Styles

Passive individuals like to use a slower and quieter approach to achieve an outcome. These individuals use non-coercive tactics such as seeking to motivate, enthuse, and involve the other person. They often use careful listening techniques.

Analytical Styles

Analytical types like to use evidence, experience, and facts and figures to achieve a logical outcome. These individuals seek to use the logical balance for and against a reasoning. There is generally a strong focus on the task at hand.

Emotional or “People” Styles

People types like to put relationships before anything else (including the task, the goal, facts, ideas, etc.). These individuals tend to build an understanding of the other person and achieve a degree of personal and emotional empathy as a priority. 

Which is Your Style?

Think about which style is your “natural style,” the one you rely on most often. Consider how you adapt your style to the situation. Are you using a style which allows others to hear and understand your perspective? Influencing, like every other skill, can be learned.

Many people are intuitively good influencers; they can easily influence or change others’ thinking. Changes in thinking can result in a change in behaviour, which in turn can change attitudes.

There are a number of skills to influence others in local government, including communication, listening, persuasion, assertiveness, negotiation, conflict resolution, and problem-solving.

4 Steps to Effectively Influence Others in Local Government

Trying to improve a skill (such as influencing) head-on can feel daunting. Focus your efforts on improving the primary skills that lead to strong influencing instead.

Step 1. Focus on your listening skills

Identifying the facts and underlying meaning of what others are saying, listening not to respond, but to truly understand. “What do they know or believe that makes them see this differently than I do?” 

Step 2. Be conscious of how you seek clarification

Demonstrate curious questioning to gain a deeper understanding of what someone is saying. Use phrases such as, “Can you help me understand?” 

Step 3. Be self-aware about how you’re giving feedback through verbal and non-verbal cues

This requires self-management of your body language and facial expressions to demonstrate an openness to changing your own perspective.

Step 4. Demonstrate understanding by effectively summarizing

Reflect the other person’s point of view back to them.  

Start improving your influencing skills by practicing these cornerstone influencing methods – listening, seeking clarification, giving feedback, and summarizing.
 
Make note of whether it successfully impacts your ability to influence others effectively in local government. As Kenneth Blanchard, author and management expert said: “The key to successful leadership today is influence, not authority.”

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7 Steps to Improve Your Influence Internally in Local Government

7 Steps to Improve Your Influence Internally in Local Government


I was presenting at the Municipal Administration Training Institute (MATI), in British Columbia recently, discussing how important influence, respect, and trust are to build a high performing team. I like to use the acronym RESPECT to outline 7 specific areas to improve your influence internally in local government. These are applicable to elected officials exploring how they interact with management, as well as managers working with their team.

In Skills to Influence Others in Local Government, we considered the individual attributes that contribute to influencing others, and many in our community completed the online influencing assessment. Here, we will discuss how to structure your interactions, creating a unique opportunity to leverage influence for a cumulative increase in the effectiveness of your entire team.

Influence is the key to effective leadership. The boundaries of your influence are the limits of your success. Widen your sphere of influence and you’ll find opportunities opening for you and for those you manage. The purpose of exerting a positive influence on the people you manage comes down to helping them understand the importance of their role in your organization’s success and motivating them to optimize their contribution. 

7 Steps to Improve Your Influence Internally in Local Government

Here are 7 steps to improve your influence internally in local government workplaces that can be easily remembered by a simple acronym – RESPECT.

Recognize

The first step to improve your influence internally in local government is to recognize that anything worth doing is worth planning to do. Keep a simple log noting when, where, and how you recognize staff members. Many managers in local government don’t make a point of recognizing staff for doing a good job or going above and beyond. A little recognition can go a long way to support positive behaviour.

Encourage

With each of your staff members, determine what the employee knows how to do well and what they should know. Identify their gaps and then arrange for training to narrow those gaps. An open, honest, and supportive dialogue to encourage your staff to move forward with skills development will be more effective in influencing change than harsh criticism and feedback.

Stretch

Involve your staff in brainstorming ways to make improvements in your department. Local governments, understandably, have a tendency to resist change. But like Jack Welch of General Electric said, “If the rate of change outside the organization is greater than the rate of change inside the organization, then we are looking at the beginning of the end.”

There is magic in thinking big. Ideally, you’ve experienced it by this stage in your career and can help your staff do the same. Acknowledge that the impossible is often the untried and then begin working with your staff to stretch their thinking creatively.

Please

What are you doing to make your working environment a pleasant one? What steps can you take to please your staff and reduce some of the stress they are experiencing?

It can take some serious introspection to determine what you can do to make the local government workplace a more pleasing place. But the payoff will come in the form of a more functional and effective department. 

Exact

We’ve all heard the phrase “what gets measured gets managed” and this is critical in local government. We first need to be exact and measure what we’re already doing, then look outside the organization to identify targets that elected officials can buy into.

Inspire your team to work together to develop an action plan that will improve this data over a specified period. Continuing to measure provides data for both the elected officials and the community and is critical not just in budgeting but also in minimizing the gap between expectations and reality. The absence of measures is not freedom, it means we leave success to be defined in hundreds (if not thousands) of ways, greatly increasing the possibility of frustration. 

Cohere

Cohere is defined as “to be united, to form a whole”. Influencing your staff to bond is one way to improve team morale, encourage working together to solve problems, and increase department effectiveness.

One way to do this is to engage in occasional and random “positively outrageous service,” a term coined by author T. Scott Gross. You might, for example, arrange a department outing or working breakfast. Find occasions to celebrate victories and successes, big and small.

Another way to cohere is to involve the staff in a project that goes beyond them to reach out to the less fortunate. Author Joyce Lain Kennedy maintains that motivating people to contribute their time or expertise is what leadership is all about. Millions of volunteers will tell you that one of the very best ways to feel good is to do good. 

Teach

Finally, to improve your influence internally in local government, you need to teach as well as encourage your staff members to find new and effective ways to acquire and develop the qualities of successful individuals: optimism, opportunity, network, and open-mindedness. An assessment of your department members’ natural strengths and abilities is one way to easily start teaching your team to embrace their positive qualities. Another key way is by exposing front line staff to training on “soft skills” at the earliest stages of their careers.

Remember these 7 Steps to improve your influence internally in local government staff by remembering RESPECT: Recognize, Encourage, Stretch, Please, Exact, Cohere, and Teach.

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