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Don’t Try To Influence By Email

I’ve been running quite a few sessions on Influencing Skills recently and one thing that has come up regularly is the way people hide behind emails when they want to get something done.

If you want to ask someone to do something, or remind them about something they should have done, it’s very tempting to just fire off an email.

“James, any progress on that report?”

“Vinay, could you let me have those figures by Friday 3.00 please?”

It’s even more tempting when you’re dealing with someone you don’t get on with very well or when you know they won’t be too happy with your message.   But, in terms of influencing, it’s the worst thing you can do.


Well, for one thing, how easy is it to ignore or delete an email?   Imagine – the other person is scanning down all their outstanding emails, looking at the sender’s name or perhaps the subject line, deciding which ones to keep, which ones to ignore and which ones to bin immediately.   They see yours and they know it’s about that report you’ve been asking for (which they don’t want to do).

It’s the easiest thing in the world to just leave it.   And, even if the person does reply to your email, they can always use a delaying tactic, giving some reason (otherwise known as an excuse) why they can’t do what you’ve asked.

It’s much harder to say “no” to someone or to use some excuse when you’re speaking to them directly, especially face to face but even on the phone. Saying “no” by email isn’t such a challenge.

Another reason emails don’t work for influencing– communication isn’t just about what you say, it’s also about how you say it.

When speaking face to face you can use body language, eye contact and other non-verbal means to add emphasis, convey emotion, be assertive, make your message more powerful.   On the phone, you’re a bit more limited but you can still use your tone of voice to persuade, cajole, plead, threaten, explain or whatever you prefer to do.   And, in both cases, you can also get a much better idea of the other person’s mood, attitude and manner and make a better judgement about how to handle them.

With an email, all you have are the words. So, to be effective, you have to choose them very carefully. And how many people are honestly that careful about their emails? It’s more likely you’ll just send something off which you’ve not thought about very much and it will end up having the wrong tone, being too abrupt or aggressive or just not carrying the meaning you want it to.

And finally, influencing others is partly about building good relationships with them. The better you get to know and understand someone, the easier it is for you to influence and persuade them and the more likely it is that they will do things for you.

And it’s very hard to build a relationship just by email. There’s no substitute for real human contact – actually speaking to someone or seeing them. Once you’ve met a person, even their email messages seem a bit more personal because you know the individual behind them.

So next time you’re wondering why you’re struggling to influence or persuade someone you work with, ask yourself how you’re communicating with them. If it’s primarily, or only, by email you need to change your approach. Pick up the phone or go and see them. It will make a world of difference.

8 Questions To Ask When You Want To Influence Someone

A large part of most people’s jobs is spent trying to influence or persuade other people. In other words, to try to get other people to do things, perhaps to start or stop doing something or to change the way they do something.

These people may be peers, employees, people higher in the pecking order or they may be suppliers or customers.

If you’re struggling to get someone to do what you want, there may be a number of reasons for this, for example:

  • they’re senior to you and don’t feel they have to take much notice of what you say
  • you don’t have a lot of personal impact in the way you say things or put yourself across
  • your priorities are not their priorities so they don’t see doing what you want as important
  • they don’t see any consequence to ignoring you, nothing bad is going to happen to them if they don’t do what you want

 If you want to get someone else to take action, you need to consider two things:

  • your own impact – how confident and assertive are you in the way you speak to people?
  • the other person’s position – their personality, their priorities, etc.

 This article isn’t going to set out all the ways you can try to influence someone.

Instead, I want to offer you 8 questions you need to consider carefully if you’re trying, and failing, to influence or persuade someone. Considering these questions will give you a good idea of where the problems might lie and how to look for solutions.

1.   What do you want them to do?

You need to be precise about this. What exactly do you want from them and what can you reasonably expect? For example, let’s say you work for the finance department of an organisation and you need Managers to send you a report every Friday. When they don’t do it on time you might complain about the lack of respect they show for you and your work. But respect isn’t what you can ask of them. What you can ask is that they send their reports to you every Friday.

2.   Why are they not doing what you want them to do at the moment?

This will tie in with the other questions but it’s worth jotting down your initial thoughts. Is it lack of time, lack of consideration, pressure from other people, other priorities?

3.   How do they see you?

How do you think you come across to them?  Do you seem confident, professional, polite, calm, assertive? Or do they see you as somehow inferior, someone to be ignored, nagging, annoying? Be honest about the impression you think they have of you. This impression may not be fair, but perceptions are very important. If you don’t like the way you come across to them, what are you going to do about it?

4.   What motivates them?

If you’re going to persuade someone to do something, you need to answer the question, ” What’s in it for me? ” What will happen if they do, or don’t do, what you want? If you don’t know what motivates them, you don’t know what to use to bargain with. Are they looking for recognition, promotion, an easy life, the grateful thanks of their colleagues, money, chocolate biscuits?

( If it’s chocolate biscuits, your job is a lot easier. )

5.   What are their priorities?

Where does what you want them to do stand in the order of things they see as important?

If you’re in the sort of business that has “fee-earners”, e.g. accountancy or law, you’ll know that those people see anything which isn’t directly related to fees as unimportant. If you deal with “creatives”, e.g. in a marketing firm, you’ll know that those people are motivated by…well, it’s probably a mystery, but it’s nothing to do with administration or accounting.

6.   What sort of decision maker are they?

If you want someone to do, or stop doing something, that involves them making a decision. People make decisions in different ways. Some are risk takers, others play it safe. Some gather all evidence and take their time, other fly by the seat of their pants ( that may be a new phrase to some of my overseas readers ). Some base their decisions on logic and reason, others do what “feels right”.

What sort of decision maker are you dealing with and what does this mean for the way you need to approach them?

7.   Who or what does influence them?

If it’s not you that’s influencing them, who is? Who do they listen to, who seems to be successful in getting them to act? That could give you a clue as to how to tackle them, or as to who you need to get on your side to help you.

8.   What do you need to that you’re not doing now?

Having considered all the other questions, this is the big one. What do you need to do now? The answer can’t be – the same thing you’ve been doing because that isn’t working. How are you going to change your approach?

If you give some thought to each of these questions, you will have a clear idea of what needs to happen to make you more successful at influencing or persuading the person you’re dealing with.

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How To Ask For What You Want At Work

I’ve been reading a great book called The Success Principles by Jack Canfield, who wrote the “ Chicken Soup For The Soul “ series of books. One of the principles he talks about is asking for things. He says there are two things which are surprising – one is how often people get what they want just by asking for it. The other is how rarely people ask.

People are reluctant to ask for what they want because they fear rejection, they fear people saying no. They feel that, if they ask and are rejected, they’ll be worse off than they were before.

Children don’t seem to have this fear, they seem quite happy to keep asking for things until the other person gives in, but somewhere along the way we learn to be cautious about asking.

A good example of what can happen if you ask occurred with a client I was coaching a couple of years ago. His wife was about to have a baby and he was being made redundant. The money wasn’t a problem, the issue was that he still had months left to work and he really wanted to be at home after the baby was born.

I asked him what his ideal outcome would be. He said he wanted to say to the company he worked for, ” I’m leaving anyway in a couple of months, I have no work to do now because things have been reorganised. Why not just pay me and let me stay at home for the rest of the time? ”

I suggested he went to the HR department and just put this to them. What did he have to lose? He did just that and negotiated a deal whereby he could leave the job early and still be paid for most of the time. It actually suited both parties. Needless to say, he was delighted.

Of course, not all situations work out so well, but how many opportunities do you think you may have missed over the years simply because you didn’t ask?

Here are Jack Canfield’s tips for asking.

1. Ask as if you expect to get what you want.

Be positive, don’t assume you’ll be rejected. I would add to ask in positive language. Don’t say, ” I don’t suppose this is possible, but…”

2. Ask someone who can give you what you want.

Make sure the person you are speaking to has the authority to give you what you ask for. Ask, ” Who do I need to speak to about…?”

3. Be clear and specific about what you want.

Don’t say, ” I want you to show more enthusiasm for your work.” Say, ” I want you to come and ask me if there’s anything you do can rather than waiting for me to come to you. ”

4. Ask repeatedly.

You don’t have to nag but don’t just ask once and then give up. Again, this is why children are so good at it, they don’t give up.

An example from sales – research shows that 60% of sales are made after the 4th call or reminder. However, 94% of sales people give up before then ( that may not be your experience if you’ve come across some sales people ).

So start asking for what you want. You may be surprised at the result!

How To Negotiate Successfully

A lot of people seem to see negotiating as a form of competition, where your aim is to get an advantage over the other person. So their view of negotiating is that you should ” keep your cards close to your chest “, not reveal too much, go in hard and don’t give any ground, etc. In this sort of negotiation, a point gained for you is a point lost for the other person.

This may be suitable if you’re haggling over the price of a car with a dealer but, in most work situations, it’s just not suitable.


Well, for one thing, at work you’re often negotiating with people you need to maintain a good relationship with – customers or clients, suppliers, colleagues. If you ” go in hard ” you may get a good deal on this occasion, but you may damage your relationship with that person in the future and end up losing more than you gained.

Here are some tips for ethical, constructive negotiation, which can help you get a good reault while maintaining a healthy relationship.

  1. Prepare – where possible, don’t just walk into it without any planning.
  2. Know your limits – this is one thing to plan. Which are the points you can compromise on and what are your sticking points?
  3. Anticipate the other person’s objections and think of ways to counter them.
  4. Know as much as you can about the other person, their views, their motivators and their style.
  5. Stay calm, don’t be aggressive and try to keep an emotional detachment from the outcome.
  6. Don’t get personal.
  7. Show an interest in the other person by asking them questions.
  8. Listen to what they say and respond, don’t just wait for your turn to speak without hearing them.
  9. Don’t be afraid to ask directly for what you want, don’t be vague or hesitant.
  10. Allow some leeway to reduce your demands by aiming high, but don’t start with a ridiculous demand which makes you look foolish.
  11. Don’t talk too much – use the power of silence.
  12. Try to work with the other person towards a conclusion you can both be happy with, don’t treat it like arm wrestling where you have to win.
  13. Give the other person a way out so they can make concessions without losing face.
  14. Don’t set, or accept, unrealistic terms or limitations, e.g. ” we have to settle this today “.
  15. Be honest – don’t try to trick the other person, exaggerate or make false claims.
  16. Respect the other person, e.g. don’t run around the room shouting, ” YES ” when you have got what you want.

I know some ” tough negotiators ” may disagree with some of these points but I think they are an honest and principled way to behave and also be successful.

How To Motivate People At Work – 10 Tips

Here are 10 simple ways you can motivate the people who work for you.

1. Be motivated yourself ( or, at least, look motivated ). Don’t go around moaning and complaining, set an example to others by taking a positive and energetic approach to whatever you do.

2. Praise people at every opportunity. Look for reasons to tell them how well they’re doing.

3. Take time to talk to people – and listen to them. Pay them some attention.

4. Help people to develop. If you can’t spend money on training, then coach them yourself ( it costs nothing but a little of your time ).

People want to feel that they’re moving forward and learning new skills, so see it as your job to help them do this.

5. Keep people informed about what’s going on and, as far as possible, involve them in decisions which affect them.

6. Give them a sense of ownership of the work they do.

Where you can, give them complete tasks to carry out and some autonomy to make decisions about how the work is done. Delegate as much as you can.

7. Agree some targets for performance so people have something to work towards and support people in achieving them.

8. Celebrate successes, even small ones.

9. Be seen, be available – and be approachable.

10. Be polite – be the one that people like to work with because you make them feel special and valued.

There you are – 10 things you can start to do TODAY ( if you aren’t already doing them ) to help the people around you to feel better about being at work.

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