How Improving Your Soft Skills Can Help You Cultivate Influence at Work

“We never know which lives we influence, or when, or why.” – Stephen King

A recent Harvard Business Review article, How to Increase Your Influence at Work, looks at basic strategies for aspiring leaders who are wanting to develop their influence as they move along their career paths. As the article plainly asks,

To be effective in organizations today, you must be able to influence people…. So, what’s the best way to position yourself as an informal leader? How do you motivate colleagues to support your initiatives and adopt your ideas? How can you become a go-to person that others look to for guidance and expert advice?

The author cites six tips to command influence in the workplace with a slight caveat:  “it’s never been harder to influence others, because they’ve never been more distracted.”
It’s true, our attention is divided between apps on our phones, personal lives, work deadlines and a fast-paced news cycle. I realized that as I struggle to keep my attention span in check, the “basics” the author mentions (that I thought I had mastered) move farther and farther from my mind, until a surprising interaction reminds me of their value. I remember thinking:

Its nice Jane puts her phone away while we’re meeting.

I appreciate the way John always lets me complete my thought before speaking

Below, three particularly helpful tips I pulled out of the article are soft skills that we may not always remember to sharpen or practice, but that are just as important for advancing our careers as learning new technical or professional skills.
Build connections
It may seem obvious, but people will support your ideas if they like you and know you on a personal level. This might be done through interacting on cross-departmental projects, maybe taking time to go out for lunch with them or through informal water cooler conversations. The article is quick to point out that this doesn’t mean you have to be the most awesome person in the room, but you shouldn’t underestimate the influence friendly relationships with your colleagues has on organizational decisions. An article from The Muse offers a real life example of what can go wrong if you don’t nurture workplace relationships.
Listen before you try persuade

“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.”
Stephon Covey, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change

We all walk around with to-do lists in our heads, but in a one-on-one situation it’s critical to pause and really listen to what the other person is saying. This tip from the article circles back to how distracted we are as individuals. Best practice is not to check your phone or email, and resist the urge to fidget when someone else is talking. It’s a two-way street, if people know you’re listening intently, they may make more of an effort to listen to you when you’re presenting or pitching a new idea.
Mind your body language (and your tone)

Communication is 80 percent non-verbal and 20 percent verbal.

People are constantly assessing whether to trust you or not, and your body language can tell them the answer faster than your words or tone can.  The article suggests, “Standing up straight with your shoulder back helps you come across as confident and commanding; slouching and looking down at your feet has the opposite effect.” Trust plays a large role how others perceive you, thus affecting the influence you may have on them. If you need some body language inspiration, watch the Ted Talk that now has more than 45 million views.
Keep these three workplace basics in mind as you plan for your next promotion or start a new job. Read the rest of the tips for commanding influence on Harvard Business Review.