Another look at influencing

| Helen Sharp

“It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it – isn’t it?”

I’ve recently been in a situation where my powers of persuasion have failed me and the people I was trying to influence actually turned against me. Their resistance was so resolute. I came away feeling defeated and have spent some time reflecting on that experience to try to understand where I went wrong.

In our desire to shift the health and social care world to co-production, collaboration and shared power, we constantly come up against this type of resistance. Some people seem not to like or understand the brave new world. Often people in positions of power who we need on side if we’re to achieve  larger transformation. So understanding how to influence them is key to growing and maintaining the momentum of the movement – but how?

The stairway model

I recently met Alan Hocking from Systemic Coaching Partners who introduced me to the ‘behavioural change stairway model’. Interestingly, this model is used in hostage negotiation situations, so it’s pretty robust! There are five stages to the stairway. The first three are focused on building rapport with the person you’re trying to influence, using active listening and empathy. Rather than launching in with what you want to say, you listen to what the other person is telling you and use reflection as a way of demonstrating that you understand their situation.

Too often, we don’t take the time to truly understand the other person’s point of view because it doesn’t fit with ours and we often stop listening when faced with disagreement. But these early stages are vital; there may be many valid reasons why they appear to resist our message. Such as loyalties and values they hold dear and concern about what they will lose. Once these have been listened to, you will be in a better position to work with them on a way forward that suits both of you.

The power of listening

The staircase model is mentioned in a recent article in The Guardian – Would you be willing – which explores other ways and words to consider when trying to influence. I now understand better why my powers of persuasion failed me and the stairway offers me guidance using a different type of power – the power of listening – one that I’m familiar with but often skip over!

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