4 Steps to Become an Influential Communicator
— September 23rd, 2021
During the publicity phase when I launched Influential Internal Communication earlier this year, I was asked why I chose that title for the book and how I would define “influence” in this context.
To answer the first question, that wasn’t originally the intended title for the book. Instead, I had pitched From Chaos to Calm – a nod to The Field Model™ I describe in the book – because it helps organizations and teams find a sense of calm by fixing issues that seem complex or impenetrable.
Working with my publishers, Kogan Page, we soon realized there were already a few books with that title related to parenting or running a house… and so Influential Internal Communication was agreed instead!
My definition of internal communication includes words like efficient, engaging, and effective and for all of those, there has to be an overarching element of influence.
In terms of how I would describe influence, that’s a longer answer! I believe that having influence is not just related to internal communication professionals, but to everyone in an organization. We all need a certain amount of influence at work to get anything done.
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Influence has been defined as “the capacity to have an effect on the character, development, or behavior of someone or something”. The word comes from the Latin “influere” – to flow in.
This is interesting because we sometimes link the word “flow” with positive communication and talk about the bottlenecks and blockages that impede comms.
If we think about the influencers we see when scrolling through Instagram or other social media channels, they are there to use their credentials, expertise, profile (and enormous following) to endorse messages. This could be their own products or other brands – think Joe Wicks, KSI, Marie Kondo, or any of the Kardashians.
Influencers get to the heart of what communications professionals do. It’s the same inside organizations.
Through my book, I wanted to help not just internal communication professionals – but also CEOs, department heads, and line managers – make an impact through better communication. The task of developing impactful communication skills is for everyone in an organization.
In my work I’ve seen so many instances where poor communication has made difficult situations so much worse; whether it’s teams not getting on, the company growing at pace, working through a merger and acquisition, or – as we’ve seen in the last 18 months – trying to adapt during a global crisis.
Using The Field Model™ to influence
I developed The Field Model™ to codify what naturally occurs when you start exploring why things are happening. The phases of The Field Model™ are: understand, diagnose and fix.
Often when I'm approached by someone for help it's because they have a pressing issue or are experiencing symptoms of chaos such as staff off sick with stress, toxic chaos in teams, or low levels of productivity.
They see the immediate effect that the issue is having on the organization and its employees but might not be sure how to overcome it.
The Evolution Project, a successful small business providing fitness coaching and nutrition advice, is a great example. I started working with them to take them through The Field Model in 2017 when they were experiencing symptoms of chaos.
After conducting listening interviews with the team, I found internal communication issues and frustrated customers. The team wasn't communicating well, there were issues that weren’t being addressed, there were no clear lines of communication, and a major problem with team friction.
Equally, the customer communication wasn’t aligned and new client leads weren’t being nurtured. The sales process was unclear and messaging across the website, emails, social media, and video content was inconsistent.
After working through the understand and diagnose phase, I moved forward to the fix by coaching the team through the necessary changes. Founder, James Llewellyn told me that our work together has: “Fundamentally changed the culture of the business and has revolutionized customer communication. Our team is much happier and we’ve vastly improved our business systems.
"The sales process has been streamlined by using emails and text messages more consistently, which improved our response rates by 40%, and increased the likelihood of people showing up for new appointments by 30%. Customer complaints have been replaced with customer compliments.”
This change continues to this day. That’s what I mean when I talk about influence. And it was all through better, clearer, more consistent communication. As I say in my book:
Communication is the fundamental component, the golden thread, that runs through everything. It is representative of culture, it is the articulation of the strategy and it’s what we need to function as a group or community. Communication covers it all.
There are a few key steps that anyone can take towards positively influencing people in the workplace centered around conversations, focus, and remaining optimistic. Here are my top tips:
1. Focus on your purpose
Purpose comes up a lot when I start to explore people or organizations and I talk about this in the book: “As individuals, we are more motivated and more satisfied with purpose. As an organization, we are more successful being purpose-led.”
If people don’t understand why they are doing something and they have no sense of purpose, it’s harder to be motivated. Being clear about the purpose of the organization, your function and the role you play within that to serve the organization makes work more meaningful.
If you’re clear on this, you’ll be able to have a more positive influence when you communicate with your team.
2. Focus on relationships
Take the time to understand and get to know each other. We need good relationships in the workplace for the organization to thrive.
We naturally influence people outside of the workplace all the time – such as our family and friends – because we have a connection. When we take time to listen, communities and groups with mutual understanding can form.
3. Focus on your mental resilience
I talk about this a lot when I run mental resilience workshops for teams. Mental resilience is the process of adapting well in the face of trauma or stress. One of my favorite book titles is: Your Oxygen Mask First.
The book explains the habits that high achievers can develop to survive and thrive in leadership. This is exactly the approach that’s needed; look after yourself first.
Taking time to understand yourself and your emotions helps you recognize stress, manage feelings of anxiety and engage the power of your mind. You can’t influence others from a place of burnout.
4. Focus on using your influence positively
One of the best ways to influence is through conversations and asking, “How can I help?” This removes barriers, shows a desire to listen and that your team matters. These conversations might not always be comfortable, but if changes are needed then that’s inevitable.
It also helps ensure decision-making brings you back full circle to your purpose. Showing that you care and that you are there to serve your team and organization will enable you to influence positively.
How can you and your team become more influential?
Organizations need to focus on helping leaders and managers improve their communication skills. If they can't influence and persuade people, then it's vital to invest in developing impactful communication skills.
You must be able to listen, to look after yourself, but also have compassion and empathy for others. You can't be a successful leader if you don't have good communication skills.