Influencing Through Invitation and Choice

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When you want to be heard and want others to follow, try leading with requests and an invitation rather than a demand, or show of force. This strategy is more powerful in the long run, especially when you are trying to influence those who don’t have to do what you say. This means most people at work and almost everyone else in your life.

Coercion is a limited strategy

Even if you have a lot of formal authority or position power, the people you are directing can find a way to not fully respond to what you require. They may comply with a demand or a show of force, but this is very different than joining you with their full enthusiasm. No one likes to be bossed around, even by their boss and almost never by their friends and family. There is almost always a price to pay for coercing someone else through a unilateral demand.

Demands are sometimes necessary but often are not, and are best used sparingly and with caution. When demands are overused, a coercive leadership style is in play, which leaves others fearful and feeling like they have no choice. While this may lead to short term “motivation”, it fails to tap the deep desire in the heart of others, to join you in creating success.

When people feel coerced, trapped or forced, they may comply, but will almost always withhold their best. And in some cases the anger they feel can get channeled into sabotage. This can be very subtle and is always costly to the organization. But it can also be mitigated through a leadership approach that invites excellence and focuses on drawing out the best in people for the long-haul.

Invitations allow for choice

An invitation is a request to another person to choose to join you, which opens the door for fuller participation. The other person then has the freedom to walk through the door that you’re holding open. And when that happens, they bring the power of their engagement along with them, and more doors can suddenly open and stay open. When someone has a choice, they will be far more committed in their participation than if they were forced to comply.

Requests are powerful, not passive

Requests can be powerful and compelling and not merely a limp, apologetic alternative to a show of force. A powerful request can be a clear, direct, and respectful. It paints a picture of what you need and invites the other person to respond to what you are asking for. It’s both self-respecting and respectful of others. This is a powerful alternative.

Don’t wait until the last minute to make a request. Allow some space and time for the other person to make a choice. This requires thinking in advance about what you want or need. If you wait until the last minute to communicate what you need, there will be pressure with it. This can easily set up a fire drill for others that wastes resources and builds resentment. You owe it to yourself and to others, to represent what you need in a timely, clear way that respects both you and the other person.

What is your response to being coerced vs. being invited? Do you feel it affects your level of engagement?

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