The secret to influencing others

content pearl influence

The easiest way to influence someone is to have something they want. If you can’t, then perhaps you don’t have that something. Or maybe they don’t understand the value that your something offers them.

As the finance leader you have access to some of the most important information in any organisation. You’re aware of the big picture and the details in a way that your peers simply are not. This lends weight to your opinions and insights.

So why don’t some finance leaders have the clout their position suggests?

Do they understand?

In his biography, Losing my virginity, Richard Branson bragged that he didn’t know how to read a balance sheet. While this might be an exaggeration, I’m suggesting it’s probably not a big one.

How many of your stakeholders would be in a similar situation? Just because they lead a business unit does not mean they understand numbers like you do. Sure, they might have completed the modules in their MBA, but that doesn’t mean they all still understand everything.

When you challenge your colleagues, do they actually understand what you are saying in a way that makes them feel comfortable? If they don’t, there is a very good chance that what you have is intimidating the very people you are trying to influence. It’s a brave person who puts their hand up among their colleagues and says they don’t understand.

Left brain v right brain

It’s often useful to think of information through the analogy of left- and right-brain thinking. Left-brain thinkers (99% of accountants) like numbers, data, steps, logic and processes as a way of understanding the world. But not everyone is like that.

Right-brain thinkers prefer stories, connections and emotions as their way of understanding the world. You can spot these people. They are always talking about the big picture, and how exciting and how much fun or energising things should be. It’s more important to them to get the right feel for what’s happening as opposed to the minor details of numbers.

There is a mountain of psychological literature that shows that people – even accountants – make decisions based on emotions. It is the right-brain emotion that causes us to take action at the time of decisions. If you’re not connecting to people through right-brain ways of thinking, they might understand the numbers, but there won’t be a catalyst for a decision.

However, don’t leave the left-brain logic out. Emotions don’t last forever; you need the logic of the left brain to fill the void when the emotions have subsided.


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When you are offering your advice, whose preference are you defaulting to – yours or your audience’s? If you don’t know what their preference is, best to have both left and right.

Context versus content

I have a CFO client who can spot an error at the third decimal place on page 13 of a detailed report. He looks at the numbers and just knows it’s wrong. He’s renowned for this. To him, the details of content just make sense; it’s why he has been so successful in his career. But not everyone is like that.

You may have spotted that the head of marketing is different to you. They are more concerned about how things will play out on a grand scale and how the company will look. They’re not overly interested in the details. To them, the details are your job.

This preference for different levels of information can cause some people to disengage. If you’re trying to shape a marketing strategy and you share excessively detailed information with those who are more concerned with the big picture, your advice may not register with them.

It’s your job to balance what level of detail they can handle against what they must know. If they are focused on the general big picture and you’re talking details, it may just seem too hard for them to understand.

Problems

Every person in every role in every organisation is working to solve someone’s problem. That’s what business is about. As the finance leader, your stakeholders will be open to what you have to say if it solves their problems. Is it one of speed to market, logistic bottlenecks, ego or something else?

Knowing this can give you a way to share your insights in a way they will want to listen. But if you use this strategy, make sure you solve one of their problems, not yours. Focusing on their problems makes your information more attractive to them.

It’s not always that others don’t value your insights and advice. Often it is a case of them not understanding what you offer, or how valuable it is for them. By realising this, you can change how you put your message across so they do understand.

Author: Darren Fleming is a trainer and mentor to senior leaders


More information

Watch our video on the art of persuasion

This article was first published in AB magazine March 2023

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