How to Develop Influence Skills While Working Remotely

Jennifer Nash Coaching Consulting-How to Develop Influence Skills While Working Remotely

Influencing others is a key skill to build rapport, meet shared goals, and get work done effectively. It’s an important workplace currency, especially as you move up the career ladder. Persuading someone may seem easy when you’re in person and able to connect. However, how do you hone your influencing skills in today’s remote workplace?

Here’s a real-life example: Karl, a current coaching client, was struggling to gain support for new ideas at work and influence his boss and colleagues while working remotely during this pandemic. Despite numerous online presentations, he felt like he couldn’t connect to his colleagues, wasn’t able to be persuasive, and couldn’t get people excited about his ideas.

After much reflection, Karl decided to try out a few things – he invited individual leaders for virtual lattes to strengthen relationships prior to the monthly presentation. He sought out feedback from these meetings and learned that he was perceived as distracted and less confident while on Zoom. Karl recorded himself presenting on Zoom, so he could practice looking directly into the camera, instead of at his own picture on the screen. Karl also had to get comfortable promoting himself to gain visibility for his team. He requested time on the meeting agenda to share a compelling story of his team’s recent win. By changing his behaviors, Karl built leadership awareness of his team’s successes, gained recognition of the team’s value to the organization, and strengthened his remote leadership and influence skills.

Here are three ways you can get better at influencing when working remotely.

1. Seek ways to help others succeed

Even when you’re not a manager, you can look for ways to elevate others. For instance, share how a colleague helped you with a project in a larger group call, or how your work mentor helped you prepare for an upcoming presentation. It can also be personal and one-on-one. Thank a colleague who supported your point of view on a Zoom call.

Case Study:

Joanne, a new manager, wanted her front-line team members to be recognized for their efforts in going above and beyond during the pandemic. We brainstormed ways how she could focus the spotlight on her team. She decided to formally recognize the team’s efforts during the monthly company call. She shared powerful anecdotes about her team members and how they dealt with adversity. This helped her be seen and garner support from the senior leadership.

By actively seeking ways to help others be recognized, I believe my client increased her influence in three ways. First, it built trust between her and her team members. Second, it demonstrated her willingness to give credit where it was due. Third, as Robert Cialdini explains in his persuasion research, it created a reciprocity effect where the other party was likely to feel obliged to return the kindness.

2. Turn off the video and tune into the audio

Much of the resentment in the workplace occurs because people do not feel heard, says Dorie Clark. When people feel heard, they are more willing to support you and accommodate your request. To build influence capability, strengthen your listening skills.

When you actively listen, you show that you care about the person as an individual. When you ask questions, it demonstrates that you want to accurately understand what the person said. When someone feels heard and knows that you care about them as a human being, it builds trust, rapport and understanding, all critical factors impacting your ability to influence others.

At your next work meeting, dial into the call instead of using a virtual video tool. Listen to what is being said as well as what is not being said. Use active listening techniques such as paraphrasing to share what you heard the other party say. Ask questions to clarify certain points coworkers made. Notice the intonation in their voice – does it go up or down? Observe the person’s rate of speech. Are they speaking slowly or quickly? How does their tone sound – is it neutral, mad, glad or sad? Practice active listening to help others feel heard and understood and increase your credibility and trust within the organization.

Removing distractions from your work environment also helps you focus as an active listener. Here’s what I do: Prior to each call with my coaching clients, I turn off any background music, close all internet browsers, silence my cell phone, close my office door and meditate for a few minutes to clear my own mind of any distracting thoughts. These actions prepare me to be fully present and ready to deeply listen to my client during their session.

3. Show you can think critically

Critical thinking is a key skill required to build your credibility at work. There are three simple habits you can adopt to get better at critical thinking, says Helen Bouygues in her HBR article – question your assumption, reason through logic, and seek out diverse perspectives. To build your critical thinking skills, check out games like chess or mancala or World of Warcraft.

The next time you need to make a work decision, first gather the facts that you know. Then identify the facts you don’t know or are making assumptions about. Pick up the phone and call a colleague to seek their perspective. Send out a message on Slack asking for input from cross-functional team members. Create an online survey to gather customer perspectives. This will help you establish your personal brand as fair and impartial, and add influence powers to your toolkit.

Case Study

Melissa is a coaching client who joined a large transportation company in March. She quickly built a strong brand as a critical thinker. Her leadership noticed that she consistently asked questions, evaluated data, identified assumptions, maintained equanimity and provided expert recommendations. These Socratic behaviors created trust and credibility with senior leaders. In early May, due to COVID-19 economic losses, the organization decided to reorganize the teams. Given her credibility with leadership, they appointed Melissa project lead for this highly-confidential and sensitive effort. Leaders in different departments were willing to follow Melissa‘s direction during the crisis. 

This article was first published on HBR Ascend.

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