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Communication Approach and Technique to Influence

Communication Approach and Technique to Influence

The Power of Indirect Influence

Author : Judith C. Tingley, Ph.D

Getting people to do what you want or need them to do can be the most difficult task faced by leaders, managers, and CEOs. As a leader, how do you influence people successfully? Do you use the command-and-control style of communication? Do you hint around, figuring your people will get the drift and take the initiative to follow through? Do you model the behaviors you want from your employees? Do you count on the power of your position to persuade people to take action?

Do you say nothing, believing that good senior managers shouldn't have to be told what to do? Do you use examples and stories as a way of inspiring people to follow your lead? Or do you try any or all of these ways to communicate so that you can be effective at influencing people, directly or indirectly?

In the business culture of the United States, the direct, assertive, or even aggressive style of communication is the preferred mode for influencing others. The direct style fits with our historic origins as a country of independent, aggressive, pioneering men and women, and with our current status as a country of entrepreneurs.

Leaders are often lauded for their command-and-control style, their cut-to-the-chase communication. '' She tells it like it is." "He doesn't mess around. He says exactly what he means and he gets exactly what he wants." "She leaves no doubt in your mind. You always know exactly where she is in her thinking." Those who don't speak up, who are nonassertive, are often run over by their more assertive competitors and never make it to the top.

But there is another way to communicate, verbally and nonverbally, in order to influence people: the "Beyond Assertiveness" (BA) approach. BA refers to a group of indirect influence communication techniques that are intentionally used to increase success in achieving a specific outcome. They are not "beyond" in the sense of being even more direct than assertive, but in the sense that they don't align with the continuum of nonassertive, assertive, and aggressive communication.

The techniques are "beyond" assertiveness in the sense that they are in a completely different plane or sphere. They are an entirely different breed of influence skills. Influencing people through indirect communication is an advanced skill that many U.S. managers now need to acquire. The changing emphasis on management as transformational, rather than transactional, the increasingly diverse workforce and marketplace, and the move toward transnational companies and a multinational workforce all point toward the need for a broader spectrum of influence skills.

Although direct communication is the hallmark of the Western business culture, Eastern Europe, Asia, some Western European, and many Latino cultures prefer and practice the finesse of indirect communication. In the United States there are many situations and events that also call for the subtlety, as well as the cooperative aura, of an indirect influence approach. Indirectness certainly works better with people from countries and cultures that more commonly use indirectness, and with people who are resistant to influence. But it also may work better than directness with younger employees who want to be full participants in making decisions that affect them. The more entrepreneurial, independent-contractor class of employee that's growing in size and strength often responds more favorably to an indirect rather than a direct approach. The Beyond Assertiveness approach will also work best for people who are new in a position of power, and for leaders who need not only to delegate but to inspire, to be visionaries.

Ideally, leaders have a broad range of direct and indirect communication techniques at their beck and call. Good leaders should use situational or adaptive communication in the same way they use situational leadership. They choose their style of leadership depending on the situation rather than on their personal comfort and preference.

They also choose the communication approach and technique that best fits the individual or group they're attempting to influence, as well as the specific situation and context they find themselves in at any given moment. Indirect influence techniques can be a powerful part of the communication tool chest, but few leaders have learned how to use these advanced skills. They are particularly useful when: the direct approach doesn't feel right in a particular setting; the direct approach has been tried and hasn't worked; aggressive or nonassertive people are the communication recipients; or the target person or group tends to be resistant, oppositional, or defensive.

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