There you are, working with a partner or a group of partners. You’re new as a partner, but you’ve been working closely with these people for a number of years. All that time, ideas about creating new business and tweaking operations have been firing off in your brain. Now, you’re in a position to execute your plans…or are you? One of the biggest challenges of your career faces you. How can you influence each of these partners? They’re so different! Each has a different way of evaluating proposals. How can you create influence in this situation and in the many more that are sure to follow?
Perhaps you have been ensconced as a CA in a large corporation and at the last meeting, you heard about new initiatives and new employees expected to be hired to fulfill them. “Wait a minute!” You want to say, “I’m a chartered accountant. I have the ability to fulfill most of these initiatives quite handily. Are you aware of my skills and capabilities?” Of course, you don’t say that right away but you do set out to create influence in this corporate environment so that they perceive you for the valuable asset you really are.
Influence at its core is the development of trust and that is why for some people the equation seems subjective rather than objective. For accountants especially, trying to decipher or cipher a subjective equation can seem frustrating at best. As a last resort, we may simply mimic someone else who has been successful. This doesn’t usually work, because influence depends on developing trust and on each person’s currency of exchange.
What do I mean by “currency of exchange”? Currency of exchange is what you have to offer and what the other person needs or wants. Since this is going to be different for each person and for each situation, mimicking someone else is usually a waste of time. In this four-part series, I will talk about the model of influence through exchange and give you some concrete examples of different scenarios and types of exchange. We will discuss that wily variable, developing trust and how to develop, maintain and deepen trust in a unique way for each person in your sphere of influence.
Since we’re all accountants here, let’s break influence down to an equation: Trust multiplied by your exchange offering plus the other person’s exchange need and then combined with that initial trust squared to the value of sincere friendship, equals expanding influence. If you want to simply exercise influence one time then delete the final part of the equation. It is only through the sincere and ongoing exercise of human friendship that influence can grow and expand over time.
When I first became a consultant to accounting firms on how to create new business and influence, I was a veteran accountant and salesperson, but I was wet behind the ears as a consultant. My whole career had been spent in building up accounting firms and servicing clients. Now, I was in a large corporate setting working in a discreet position as consultant. I decided that I wanted to prolong my engagement indefinitely with one large firm in particular, Arthur Anderson.
Certainly, I could do a good job, but it would take more than that for me to become ensconced in that company’s corporate culture. I pulled out the expanding influence equation and began to break down the definitions of each of the variables and then identify the people with whom I needed to create an exchange. Three years later, an Arthur Anderson representative for sales training asked me to sign an open-ended contract. Did I create influence? Yes, I did. Did I create expanding influence? I remained with Arthur Anderson in a role that continued to grow for the next ten years. I left in 2001 and I continue to foster and maintain my relationships ten years later.
Why do I continue to foster these relationships? Is there an exchange going on between me and that corporate structure? No, there’s not. I know that, while my initial relationships and goals evolved in a corporate setting, influence is not about corporate structures. In the beginning, middle and end it is about human integrity, compassion and curiosity. These values are the bedrock of our society and so they have to be the bedrock of our business practices and our ongoing success too.
In the second part of this series we will explore how to create affinity and establish the initial seed of trust that you will later nurture. This can be especially important for chartered accountants who encounter diverse cultures and personalities every day.
In preparation, I want you to evaluate your current situation and answer these questions: 1) Do I have a specific workplace goal at this time or do I simply want to increase the influence I have in my current position? 2) Who are the individuals with whom I wish to create influence? 3) What is my current level of trust with this person/these people?
Once you have taken inventory of yourself and your situation, we will discuss these steps:
- Creating affinity and trust: Part 2
- Determining each person’s exchange need: Part 3
- Evaluating your exchange offering: Part 3
- Maintaining and expanding trust and influence over time: Part 4
Even accountants, who work with dry policies, regulations and spreadsheets, can penetrate the science of trust, mutual exchange and influence. It’s just a matter of understanding each variable. Notice that I didn’t say, “knowing” each variable, I said, “understanding.”
Figure out what sort of presence you want to have in your work and in your life. Hopefully, these correspond. Decide what your tangible goals are and your time frame for attaining them. Evaluate your shortcomings and your strong suits. All of this information is going to become your sheath of golden arrows down the road. You may have heard the expression, “There is no golden bullet.” Well, there are golden arrows and they can be mined through careful introspection, observation and sound judgment. Put yours together and we will begin the journey of influence.
Creating Affinity and Trust
What is affinity exactly? At first glance, you might say that affinity is being like someone and that is true but it does not tell the whole truth. When we create affinity we are simply uncovering what it is that we have in common with someone else. The ability to create affinity is the first step to building trust.
For centuries, human beings have run their lives and businesses by surrounding themselves with people who are like them. Look around your current workplace and compare the obvious statistics such as educational background, marital status, hobbies and culture of origin with those of the hiring manager or boss. Usually, you will see a high correlation.
Current business studies show, however, that the more diverse a work group is, the more financially successful they are. This is because they are forced to create affinity with one another, respect differing views and therefore ultimately have more understanding of the marketplace. In addition, they are able to brainstorm and invent at a much higher level as each person’s input is extremely unique.
When it comes to you creating influence, the process is similar. The more that you can use initiative and curiosity to discover less obvious shared interests and experiences that you have with others, the more influential you will be. Some commonalities may have to do with geography, some with hobbies and others may be a shared experience such as surviving cancer or the birth of a child.
In a typical workplace interaction, you might see someone who is like you: they are the same gender, age and education level. You gravitate to that person and a few others until you have created a “hub” of sorts. Then, with your comfort level high, you use that hub to create influence: meeting friends of friends, asking for a good word here and there as well as advice. On the downside, you run the high risk of alienating anyone not in or related to your hub and your influence is still very limited.
A more modern and effective approach is to essentially do the opposite of the hub. I call it the “seed” approach. In any corporate environment there is a hierarchy of individuals. The seed approach does not recognize hierarchy. In this method of creating influence, you simply see and relate to each person as an equal human being. If you regularly interact with a receptionist, assistant, driver, office
managers etc., then you gradually work to create affinity with them. When you interact with colleagues from diverse cultural backgrounds, who look and act very differently from you, you openly seek to create affinity with them too.
For example, let’s say that in your new group, you have a professional who is close to 60-years-old. She is five feet tall and speaks with a Polish accent. Her dress is very prim and proper and she has a bit of a curt tone to her voice. At first glance, you wonder if her hair is shellacked or real. Her name is Edith.
Let’s say for the sake of this example that you are a 34-year-old male. You’re Asian and in your free time you like to participate in kickboxing and electronic music mixing. You and Edith have the same designation in your firm, but because of her ability to speak six languages, she is often called upon to travel more and given more auditing tasks.
To create affinity with Edith, you must follow the three basic steps:
It is surprising how few people really exercise the most powerful tool of all: curiosity. Ask questions in a respectful and genuine way with the goal of uncovering what it is that you and that other person have in common. For example, “Edith, when did you move to the United States? Was that a difficult transition for you? The reason I’m asking is that I know my grandmother has told me about how difficult it was for her to leave Laos behind and come to Canada.”
Each piece of information that Edith gives you, receive it as a gift, because it is. Treat it with honor and ask more questions without being pushy. Oh, you have a daughter? Is she interested in accounting? My father runs a restaurant. He really wanted me to follow in his footsteps. It took us a while to work out that conflict. ”
In this example I have gone ahead and shown you how vulnerability naturally follows from curiosity. As you learn more, you share more. Finally, you make a point of noting when you will see the person again. This is maintenance. In friendship outside of work, you might set up a day and time to get together. In a
work environment, you note when your paths may cross and express the desire to talk to them again.
Trust is more than developing affinity, however. Trust is developing affinity and then demonstrating the three C’s: Competency, commitment and your character over time. Without continued development over time, trust fizzles out. So, actually, maintenance is an essential ingredient because remaining consistent over time is the only way we can prove ourselves to others and earn their trust.
In modern-day culture we rely increasingly on the convenience of the moment, on being friendly and on hubs. Those people who push against this trend and extend beyond convenience to maintain relationships, e.g., “I can drive over to your office for a one-on-one meeting and maybe we can have lunch,” these people create influence.
Being friendly isn’t the same as being friends because it doesn’t require real curiosity or vulnerability. When you work with someone regularly being friendly is essentially an insult, since you could make the effort to actually be friends. Yes, even with those who initially rub you the wrong way!
Do they seem controlling and anxious? Ignore that and instead be curious as to what you have in common with them. Take a leadership role rather than making a passive retreat.
Learning how to be comfortable being uncomfortable, at least initially, is a key to becoming a man or woman of influence.
As you consistently show interest in the people around you, people are not going to be likely to misinterpret you. “He’s like that with everyone, so he’s not being especially nice to me.” It’s important to communicate curiosity and interest without crossing important boundaries. For example, you may want to limit your
curiosity with the young female receptionist or male intern to her or his past work experiences and future career goals.
Use your best judgment. If someone shuts you down, your only recourse may be to smile at them and give them a friendly hello. Nevertheless, a smile can change someone’s day. Never underestimate the influence of a smile. If you ask most people they would say that accountants don’t smile a lot. So, break that stereotype
and you may also end up breaking the stereotype of the accountant who doesn’t know how to create influence and leverage.
In the sales field, we call maintenance “touching.” If you want to sell someone something you give them a touch each month: at least 12 times a year. A touch is a quick note in the mail, an email with a link to an article, a phone message saying hi or congratulations, a lunch or coffee meeting or even an invitation to hear a speaker or share a common interest such as sports or music.
When we’re talking about creating influence, what we’re selling is ourselves. That said, it is possible to completely fail to create influence. You can keep in touch with someone religiously, show curiosity and vulnerability and still completely fall short of creating influence with them. How?
Just be dishonest, say you’ll do something and don’t do it, or don’t call to explain. Brag or compete. Honest, integrity and humility are attractive traits. Showmanship, haphazardly giving your word and not acknowledging when you have broken it, these are toxic to creating both influence and friends. If you follow this equation precisely and you don’t have honesty, integrity and humility, then you have failed.
I know it’s hard to call someone up and tell them that you can’t do what you said you could do. When you make an agreement with another person and then find that you cannot keep the agreement, it’s up to you to change it. How do you change it? You have a conversation where you say, “I can’t do what I said I would do.” If you just let silence reign then you have broken the agreement rather than changed it.
The former shows disrespect and the latter respect.
No matter how uncomfortable it may be for you to tell Jake that you can’t send him the software package you said you would send him, do it. If you don’t, letting the time pass and not addressing the issue, then you’ve just lost Jake’s respect and all the people with whom Jake has influence.
As you can see, creating affinity and trust is a lot of work. That’s why successful and influential people are also called leaders. They go the extra mile, working at two things all the time, their jobs and their relationships.
Once you have established the initial trust, you are ready do two important things. First of all, you want to identify from your list of allies, the top twenty people whom you feel have opportunities to offer you and who would be open to the opportunities you have to offer them.
Once you have identified your top twenty, then it is time to evaluate exchange needs and offerings and then to make an exchange. From your golden arrows of introspection you should have determined what it is that you need from your allies. For example, you may realize that you have to accomplish some difficult tasks on your job and you need specific task-related currencies. I use the word “currency” because when you make an exchange with an ally, each of you is going to be spending what you have to get something that you need or want.
Task-related currencies are:
- New Resources such as machines, money or employees
- Challenge/Learning such as instruction on how to complete a task to specifications
- Rapid Response such as speeding up a point in the process
When most people hear the word “influence” they think of position related currencies:
Finally there are the currencies that we often take for granted but which are not always on the table for exchange: relationship currencies. These include:
- Personal Support
When I say these are not always on the table, I mean that your ally may not have relationship currencies to offer you. They may have information or task support but not personal support. Get clear that these are not bundled together.
Again, I cannot stress the importance of understanding yourself before you begin this process. When you are very clear on what you need and what you have to offer and you can differentiate the currencies, then you are more likely to be able to make frequent and highly profitable exchanges with your allies.
Have you noticed that I am referring to those with whom you have established affinity as your allies? They are people who are on your side. Even if you compete in other ways, if you’ve been consistent and genuine in creating trust and if you carefully assess your currencies and theirs’, then you can be allies.
From the lists of currencies above, note those that you have to offer. You may not have many contacts but you may have a great deal of information about a particular industry, company, policy etc. You may not be the best at supporting and offering life-coaching but you have an excellent reputation and can be a valuable reference. Think very carefully about what you have to offer and don’t discount anything.
Make a list of your long and short-term goals. Then use the same investigative thinking regarding your allies. Do you know these things about each potential ally:
- What currencies do they value? (What are their long and short-term goals?)
- What resources can you give your ally to match what he or she values?
These are things you would have learned as you were creating affinity.
When you have laid out what you have to offer and assessed what your ally needs, then you are ready to pinpoint your ally’s interaction style. Are they a straight-to- business kind of person who doesn’t like to waste time on small talk?
Are they a shy, gradual disclosure type of person who needs to warm up?
Does your ally like to infuse every interaction with humor and personal comfort exchange?
Get clear on how you are going to be interacting when you make an exchange.
The exchange itself will depend on your ally’s interaction style. For example, if they are a cut-the-crap and get-down-to-business sort of person, you may simply set up a meeting or a lunch and tell them that you need X from them. In the same conversation, offer them your currency that you have determined they need either from observations or because they have clearly told you that they need such-and- such.
Your exchange may be as simple as an email exchange if you are comfortable enough with one another.
Here’s an example: Ralph emails his ally James in marketing and asks him if he will evaluate his proposal for the creation of a new subsidiary dealing in overseas services from a marketing standpoint. He explains that he had already had his accounting allies evaluate it, but he isn’t sure it is well-rounded. He ends his email with, “I really appreciate your help and want you to know that my offer to tutor James Jr. in calculus this semester still stands.”
Notice that tutoring a teen over a semester may be more of an extensive outlay in time and personal currency than an evaluation of a proposal from a marketing perspective. Consider two points, however: 1) What does Ralph have to gain from becoming the CEO of a new subsidiary? 2) Counting never works when you exchange influence currencies. Counting is great in accounting, but when you create an influence exchange, don’t count what you gave next to what they gave.
Ralph had already offered to tutor James’s son before he had decided to ask for this exchange. He simply saw a need and made an offer to meet it, knowing that eventually that generosity would come back to him either from James or from someone else. Also, Ralph genuinely cares about James Jr. and wants to see him succeed.
No matter how lopsided the exchange may be at the moment, remember relationships cannot be 100% quantified. Obviously, in evaluating exchange currencies and identifying your top twenty allies, you are quantifying these relationships to an extent. Nevertheless, to create influence, you have to keep in mind that a relationship is not an object, it is a living, breathing organism. When things don’t exactly add up neatly from the credit to the debit columns, take a deep breath, step back and smile. Be patient and be flexible. You don’t know what the future holds, but you do know that the more you give, the more fulfilled your life is. So, smile, make an exchange and be grateful no matter how small their offering may seem at the time.
As the months and possibly years pass, you will gradually move some allies off of the top 20 list because your exchanges have changed or have not worked. Change will keep on happening as you keep on expanding your circle of influence and redefining your long and short-term goals.
Let’s say that you are asking for more money to be allocated to your budget and your ally is beginning a lengthy court battle. You offer her moral support and knowledge from your own court battle experience.
Do you think that it’s wrong to ask for money in exchange for emotional support? No, it is not wrong. You are actually asking for what you need and asking for what you need is a cornerstone of all good relationships. There’s nothing wrong with one currency being from the relationship category and the other being from the position category.
A true person of influence doesn’t expect anything. If your friend you’re helping through the court battle says no to your request for funding, well, that’s their right. Let it go and concentrate on achieving your goals, not on your ego. Also have faith that their reasons for refusing you are sound. Don’t second guess them. Don’t mark them off your list either. Give it some time. The world of business throws new
challenges in our paths every day. You may wake up tomorrow and need their expertise. Just a few answers to a few key questions could change your future. You will know when it’s time to move on but I guarantee you it is not a good idea to burn bridges after one failed exchange or in a state of disappointment.
A strong person of influence shrugs and moves on to a different ally and a different sort of exchange. A weak manipulator stays stuck in a need to control. Signs of manipulation are anger, bitterness and accusations.
When you sit down and try to detail every single aspect of being a good person and a good friend, you can’t do it because all of your actions have to come from a desire to be of service first and a desire to get your needs met second. If your ego dominates your interactions, then you will lose. The best leader is the leader who knows how to follow, how to share his or her weaknesses and how to ask for what they need, expecting nothing. They are rare and, yes, they are extremely influential.
- Assess your needs
- Assess what currencies you have to offer
- Identify your allies
- Assess what currencies your allies have to offer
- Diagnose what sort of interaction style each ally has and figure out how you are going to approach them.
- Make your request, but expect nothing. Be accepting and genuine regardless of their response.
- Have the next ally exchange planned so that you can keep moving.
- Be ready to listen, able to receive and willing to give.
Ultimately, as we’ve discussed, time defines most relationships. Only over time can you see whether or not someone can keep their word, focus on the big picture and continue to invest in knowing another person. You have to prove your competency, commitment and your character in order for someone to trust you.
Continuing to be curious, vulnerable and continuing to show up, these three actions create the final part of the equation which is trust squared to the power of friendship.
More than a few years have passed. You and your ally have made an exchange or two or three. You’ve come to know the person: they’re interaction style, their goals and the currencies they have to offer.
No doubt, the two of you have taught each other a few things just through working at creating affinity over time.
Now, what happens when you achieve your goals or they change dramatically? What happens when you no longer see the other person in the course of your work? You move to another company. They retire. They change professions and then lifestyles and then, it seems to you, they are a different person altogether. You have moved them off of your top 20 list and, while you stay in touch sporadically, you don’t make the effort to stay in touch in a systemic way.
So, now that the relationship is inconvenient and they are not a key ally, what should you do? Drop it or hang on? If you and the other person still share the same basic values, then these changes are a signal to you that you may want to re-create affinity.
Oh….hmm. That’s a lot of effort and you’re already busy.
Cheryl had worked closely with Eloise when they ran the Accounting Department in a large retail business. In fact, Eloise had shown Cheryl many important ways to get tax credits on various kinds of unused inventory. She had guided her toward her current expertise as a duel tax accountant and tax attorney. In exchange, Cheryl recommended that Eloise be the Accounting representative in the Buyer quarterly meetings. This gave Eloise the entre into fashion that she wanted. She made connections quickly and was included in Spring reveals and invited to Paris shows.
Her son benefited from her connections and now has his own design house in New York City.
Cheryl got what she wanted: autonomy. She now has her own firm. She left corporate behind and eventually Eloise too. They stayed in touch by having lunch once a month for a few years, then downsizing, health issues and family interfered. It’s been fifteen years since Cheryl needed to make an exchange with Eloise, who retired last year. In fact, Cheryl’s business has expanded so much that she is considering opening branch offices and possibly even franchising. The options are limitless it seems. Eloise is the far from her mind at the moment.
Many’s a time I’ve been at a crossroad and needed the keen mind of an ally to help me evaluate the situation, but not just their mind. I’ve needed their heart to be engaged. I’ve needed someone who cares enough about me to tell me the truth.
Each ally has different strengths. I know I can call on one to give me sound business advice. I know another one will let me talk it out and offer me encouragement. A third has connections in every kind of industry there is: retail, hospitality and healthcare – you name it.
One Saturday afternoon, Cheryl felt like she needed just that sort of help and without a second thought, she sent Eloise a quick email: “Can you talk?” She didn’t know that Eloise was packing up and moving to Costa Rica when she saw that message pop up on her Android. Within minutes of calling Cheryl back, the two seasoned accountants, one corporate and one independent, were engaged in a sophisticated evaluation of Cheryl’s expansion options. After less than an hour, they had narrowed Cheryl’s strategies down to two possibilities.
“You know that in the end, the franchise idea is going to be more risky but less demanding on your time. Are you willing to take the risk?” Eloise laughed when she asked this because she knew Cheryl and knew that she was going to take a risk if it meant greater freedom from the demands of work.
Cheryl, on the other end of the line, knew that she knew and they laughed together, the issue decided. It turns out, that Cheryl had a few gems of information about the best way to relocate to another country and keep one’s tax exposure low.
We’re all busy but not nearly as busy as we think we are. What I mean by that is an hour or two a year on the phone, a card or a funny email here and there until your
touches add up to keeping someone in your life whose influence has grown into that of a spiritual kind – friendship.
That is the beauty of expanding influence, you may continue to maintain relationships with the same 100 people more or less, but those relationships expand and you with them. Influence when you look back on a lifetime of creating it, looks a lot like the long and careful construction of a strong career and a wonderful life.