Whether you are at the top of the corporate ladder or just want to be heard in a meeting, influencing skills are vital for anyone to be successful.
Moreover, those skills are vital for a leader, whose job it is to move people forward.
What is influence? At work, it is the capacity or power someone has to be a persuasive or compelling force to produce effects on the actions, behavior or opinions of others. Or, put simply, it is getting someone to go from Point A to Point B. Influence can come with a position and title but it is not guaranteed. In fact, people can be influential in any role, whatever their station.
Women, however, continue to struggle while they search for ways to become more influential at work. Sometimes they toil just to have their ideas heard or valued. (Stories abound about men and women who independently present the same material and are often treated differently.)
Here then are eight strategies women can do to raise their level of influence at work.
1. Develop your drive to become more influential.
First, you have to want to improve. Becoming more influential takes desire and effort. If it doesn’t matter to you, then figure out why it doesn’t matter!
2. Remember that your workplace is not a meritocracy.
Be careful not to get caught up in the notion that if you work hard, you will be justly and fairly rewarded. Real competition exists in the workplace. Yes, competence and results are essential for your growth. But you still must learn how to promote yourself and bring attention to your excellent work.
3. Keep your skills and knowledge up to date.
It is so easy nowadays to keep your skills current and continue to learn. Online courses, MOOCs, blogs, books, podcasts, seminars and even YouTube all provide easily accessible learning resources. If you’re not learning and keeping yourself up to date, know that your co-worker or competitor is.
4. Believe in yourself or what you know.
When you’ve done #3, you have laid a strong foundation to be credible with coworkers and bosses. The next step is to have the courage to show what you know and to be as smart as anyone on the team. Women repeatedly underestimate their competence. An HBR article notes that a woman will apply for a job when she meets 100 percent of the job requirements, whereas a man will apply even if he has met only 60 percent of the requirements.
5. Solve “important” problems.
Women sometimes pride themselves at being good multitaskers, getting things done, and helping others. It’s useful to know that if you are particularly good at these traits, you also run the risk of being given lots of insignificant tasks to finish. While you may not be in a position to say “no” when given these requests, you should also look for “important” problems to solve. Do all you can to understand the pain points of the business or your boss, and then help solve them. When you start to solve your business’ real problems, your level of influence will skyrocket.
6. Know when to show your agentic (masculine) and communal (feminine) communication styles.
This balancing act is also called the Goldilocks Dilemma. A woman’s communication style is constantly being judged. Your style may be seen as too aggressive, demanding, competitive or maybe too warm, caring and soft — but never just right. In the work world, it is detrimental for a woman to outwardly show anger. On the other hand, men are given a greater pass when they show aggression, disgust or anger. So the communication playing field is uneven. What then do you do?
You take incremental steps to bring your authentic communication style in line with what works for you and your environment. Start with self-awareness and then make small changes that will enhance your agentic and communal communication techniques. Knowing when and which communication style to show in a particular context will increase your influence.
Next, heighten your self-awareness around your nonverbal communication. Your brand of it sends many messages about you that your audience is implicitly deciphering. Nonverbal qualities for you to consider are the following: your appearance, demeanor, posture, language and speaking style, room positioning, body language, voice and diction. (This list can go on and on!) Seek to understand how your own components of it are affecting your credibility; the right nonverbal communication can positively affect your influencing ability when you are able to project confidence, approachability, professionalism and yes, the right amount of power.
7. Prep and practice makes perfect.
Like an athlete, prep and practice of a newly learned skill are important to change habits and outcomes. Self-awareness will uncover areas you want to adjust. Practice will allow you to test your new behaviors. When you experience small wins along the way, your confidence and influence will grow.
8. Hold up others.
Make every effort torecognize and acknowledge others at work. Research indicates that greater benefit is gained when a woman receives accolades or is promoted by others, than when she self-promotes. This does not mean that you should not learn more effective ways to (professionally and prudently) self-promote, but it does mean that you should also find cohorts and champions who are willing to tout how great you are.
With certainty, if you start to employ these strategies you will enhance and improve your influencing capabilities. No matter what role you have in your organization, your ability to influence is key to your continued growth and success.