Seeking Influence? Always Think Long Term - Michelle Gibbings

Seeking Influence? Always Think Long Term

Political philosopher Niccolò Machiavelli wrote his most famous work, “The Prince,” in the 16th century. There were wars between states and foreign powers. Famous Italian families, such as the Medici’s, rose in power and were then exiled. It was a tumultuous time in Italian history.

Niccolò Machiavelli’s quotes are legendary. Here are just a few:

“The ends justify the means.”

“Power is the pivot on which everything hinges. He who has the power is always right; the weaker is always wrong.”

“The first method for estimating the intelligence of a ruler is to look at the men he has around him.”

“All courses of action are risky, so prudence is not in avoiding danger (it’s impossible), but calculating risk and acting decisively. Make mistakes of ambition and not mistakes of sloth. Develop the strength to do bold things, not the strength to suffer.”

We can also thank him for the term ‘Machiavellian’. While he didn’t identify this personality trait, it was named after him.

You’ve no doubt heard the term before. As a personality trait, it is one of the three characteristics that make up the dark triad of personality traits. The other two are narcissism and psychopathy.

In the 1960s, psychologists Richard Christie and Florence Geis examined the thinking processes and actions of people who seek to manipulate others. They based some of their research on Machiavelli’s writings and coined the term ‘Machiavellianism’ to recognise that.

Like all personality constructs, the trait exists on a spectrum. In general, Machiavellian people desire power and will do whatever they can to get what they want. They’re cunning, deceptive, coercive, and good at making themselves look good. Interestingly, research suggests that this personality trait tends to decrease with age and is more prevalent in men than women.

You’ll likely encounter people like this during your working life. They are not fun to work with.

Influence isn’t Machiavellian
I am often asked about this concept when I share ideas on influencing others. People often think of strategies for seeking influence as Machiavellian, but they are not.

A person who is Machiavellian takes a short-term approach because everything they do and say is about them and their needs. Taking that approach might get you the outcome you want now, but not for the long term.

Balance the Scales
Good and healthy influence is about balancing the scales so that it is not just the charismatic extravert who gets heard or the person who knows how to play the political game who gets ahead.

Influence is a force for good when the energy spent on influencing is directed towards outcomes that are not self-serving. The focus is on securing progressive outcomes, such as helping get initiatives across the line or affecting positive change.

Create Ripples
Influential leaders know how to secure impact while treading softly.

I liken it to the difference between crashing waves and ripples in a stream. Sure, waves have a more significant impact, but they are also more destructive to the things around them.

If you take the brash, crash-through approach, you might have a faster impact on this occasion, but it’s not sustainable. Instead, you end up eroding relationships.

In contrast, ripples take time to leave their imprint. So, being able to influence effectively and sustainably takes time. This means that every investment of energy and interaction you have matters.

If you want to create ripples, you need to apply the following:

1. Reciprocity – Dr Robert Cialdini, author of Influence – the Psychology of Persuasion, emphasises how we have an innate desire to help people who do things for us.

We like to return favours. So if you do something nice for someone, they’ll usually feel obliged to do something for you.

Consequently, you always want to give before asking for something. Your focus is on building relationships over time. You take the long view with relationships and will never sacrifice a relationship for short-term, self-serving gain.

2. Interest – Be authentic and genuinely interested in the other person. Get to know them on an intellectual and emotional level. Listen to what they say. Be eager to find ways to help them.

As part of this, you welcome different thoughts, ideas and opinions because you know you don’t have all the answers. You accept that being interested doesn’t mean you have to agree with everything the person says. You are, however, always curious.

You’re also not afraid to take a stand and speak up against the majority on the issues that matter. You focus on collective interest and gain.

3. Presence  You are present and take the time to listen to people and ensure they feel fully heard when they raise an idea or a concern.

Most importantly, when you are in the room with someone, be there in body, mind, and spirit. When you’re distracted, you project signals that suggest they don’t matter to you.

Be conscious of your impact. How you present yourself, what you say, your body language, facial expressions, eye contact, and physical proximity all matter.

4. Purpose – Be clear on the purpose and why you want to meet with them. If you’ve extended the invitation, be grateful for their time. Never waste their time or see your time as more valuable than theirs.

You’re conscious of the type of relationship you want to build with someone, and you treat everyone you meet with respect. You see every interaction as an opportunity to connect and enhance the connection.

5. Language – You match your language style and pace with the person you meet. You use inclusive words rather than jargon and overtalking. You invite participation throughout the conversation.

The focus is on keeping the conversation targeted and tailored to the situation and context while remembering that it is more about them than you.

6. Elevation – Always look for ways to help the people around you reach their goals. Open your network to them. Introduce them to people. Look for ideas, connections and opportunities.

Influential leaders acknowledge the efforts of others and don’t take the glory for successes that were not theirs or theirs alone. Their secret sauce is they know how to stand out without making everything all about them.

As author Stephen Covey said, “The real beginning of influence comes as others sense you are being influenced by them ― when they feel understood by you ― that you have listened deeply and sincerely, and that you are open”.

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