Influencing – How to use soft skills to get hard results

May 28, 2012 | By

Participative Influencing Approach

This is an interdependent style where one of the main aims is to involve others in the process. People who use this approach know that although they might have views and perspectives on an issue, they are not likely to have all the answers. They know that they may need input from others in order to reach the most effective outcome possible. Or, maybe, they think that they do have the right answer, but they are also aware of the fact that allowing their people to get involved is a key aspect of effective leadership.

Characteristics

This approach consists of asking many questions and listening actively to the responses. You ask questions, invite reactions and take the time to consider them. This approach means that you do more inquiring than advocating, more asking than telling. It is about involving people, bringing them into the conversation and working to identify common ground. Its main aim is to find some common ground between positions so that there is a link or bridge between position A and position B. Bridging involves making the distance between two or more positions shorter, therefore making it easier for people to agree.

The participative person is a skilled questioner – using open and probing questions and expanding the others person’s initial position.

When to use

You might use this approach when you require long-term commitment and when you are not the expert in a particular subject area, or indeed when there are no obvious solutions to a difficult and complex issue. Many of the issues we now face in organisations are extremely complex and ambiguous, with no one easy answer available. So the only appropriate course of action would be to invite many different perspectives before embarking on a particular course of action.

One advantage of this approach is that it builds on the thoughts and ideas of all the people involved. This will lead to more effective and creative solutions and it is also more likely to gain commitment as you are involving others from the beginning.

There are some potential disadvantages to this approach. If you are in a situation where a quick decision is essential this approach would not be recommended. The whole basis of the approach is about involving others, so you will need some time. Some managers think all decisions need to be made in a hurry, so if you are that type of manager, stop for a moment and consider the implications of rushing too quickly to a decision. It can also be quite frustrating if you use the participative approach with inexperienced people, or people who lack specific knowledge about the issue or situation. They will wonder why you are involving them, when they are expecting you to tell them what to and how to do it.

In some contexts this approach might be seen as you not knowing your stuff, as lacking in expertise or being indecisive.

Participative influencing is also very popular with leaders and managers and for many it is their default approach, used as a matter of course without even attempting to use any of the other approaches. It is highly involving and creates a positive climate where all the stakeholders feel they have contributed to the debate. They are therefore committed to and buy into the outcome. However, it will not work well in certain situations or cultures where a hierarchical approach and top-down decision making are the norm.

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