by Don Morley

Aim for a win/win outcome

To achieve sustainable influence, it is desirable to aim for win/win outcomes. This does not mean backing off and making do with a compromise. The goal is to achieve what you set out to do, modified only by the information that comes to light as a result of your establishing the view of the other party. You are still entitled to stand your ground and elsewhere the topic of Assertiveness explains how to do this productively.

Faced with the choice of changing one’s mind and proving that there is no need to do so, almost everyone gets busy on the proof.

J K Galbraith

Have you ever experienced a situation in which you thought you had gained agreement with someone, only to find that you were faced with making the case all over again at some later point? Perhaps their initial agreement was only half hearted; they weren’t committed. What factors could have been getting in the way?

Time and commitment

The problem for most managers these days is lack of time. Everything gets hurried – including the process of influencing. But it’s essential to allow sufficient time if you are to get to get real buy in. If influence is to last, then those influenced must be fully committed to whatever it is that they have agreed to.

Many change initiatives fail precisely because the new order has been inflicted upon the people who have to make it work with little genuine attempt to win over their ‘hearts and minds’ first. Senior management will point to the presentations they have made, or the lengthy memos sent, but in reality this is little more than going through the motions. It takes time to get people involved and accepting the potential benefits. Too often it simply feels as if they have been told, ‘it’s good for you.’

Lasting influence is marked by the following attributes:

  • Neither party should feel they’ve won or lost

- because a win/win has been achieved.

  • Both parties are committed to the outcome

- because adequate time was taken to explore and recognise the implications for both.

  • They will readily work together again

- because collaboration rather than conflict describes the process they followed.

Do it right

There is no secret formula for exercising effective influence. There is, however, a process which, if followed, will make influencing easier and more likely to succeed.

A key aspect is to start in good time. Achieving a meeting of minds, especially if your opening positions are far apart, can be a lengthy journey. It may require marshalling support from others – not ganging up but getting a weight of opinion to augment your proposal. Time may be needed for building rapport and gaining the confidence of the other party or parties; this includes making the effort and taking the time to understand their situation fully.

Keep clearly in mind what you want to achieve, and by when, as you get drawn into lengthy debate. Likewise, remembering the strengths that you can bring to bear will ensure you do not get pushed into making unnecessary concessions.

Do it with flexibility

While it is important to have given consideration to your desired end goal, it is equally important not to have mentally ‘locked’ yourself into a rigid outcome that leaves no room to explore modifications. If the other person also has objectives cast in stone, agreement may well be impossible. Flexibility in this instance is a mark of strength, not weakness.

You start by having both parties outline their broad aims and concerns, in order that the subsequent energies can go into productively searching for an outcome that is satisfactory to both of you.

Do it together

Do not be afraid to demonstrate your desire to reach a mutually satisfactory outcome. The easiest way to draw (pull not push) the other person to your way of thinking is to use the ‘language of mutuality’.

  • ‘Let’s try to find a better way – which is neither yours nor mine.’
  • ‘Let’s make sure we keep focused on the issue, not each other.’
  • ‘We both have a right to our opinion; we both deserve to reach a positive conclusion.’
  • ‘Let’s keep exploring ways in which we can do this.’
  • ‘Let’s first agree what we already agree on – then we only have to agree solutions for whatever is left.’

The way in which the dialogue is conducted can have an enormous influence on the outcome. Work consistently to gain a better understanding. Where there is a difference of opinion, focus on the reasons why you think or ‘see things’ differently. Get creative when considering ways in which the differences might be reconciled. Remain positive at all times and be patient.

Compromise is not win/win

If you take on board the approaches outlined above, you will be well placed to achieve a win/win outcome. Let’s consider an example.

You are a book retailer and the publisher’s salesman is sitting before you, trying to get the best price possible for the books you will sell over the Christmas period. You can haggle for a lengthy period (rather like a tug of war) and wind up paying a middle price – after all, you need the books and he needs to get them out of the warehouse. But this compromise leaves you both feeling that the outcome could have been better.

The alternative is to search for a different type of deal. Perhaps the publisher is short of working capital, having had to build up inventory for the seasonal sales push. Payment now, rather than the normal 30-day terms, could result in a five per cent discount on the price. You get your target price; the publisher solves a cash flow problem. Alternatively, you agree to take the books into your warehouse immediately – you have the space, he does not – and again the price is moved in your favour. His gain is reducing an expensive rental of additional warehouse space. You both feel that it was a good outcome and you look forward to doing business again.

The same approach can be used when influencing. If you and the other party steadfastly refuse to move from your opening position, then the outcome can only be a compromise. However, win/win becomes more readily attainable if you adhere to the key elements of successful influencing.

  • At the outset, be clear in your mind not only what is to be achieved but also what the minimum is and what other options you may be prepared to accept.
  • Go into the exercise with a positive mindset: a solution can be found and I am the person to make it happen.
  • Remember that you have a network to tap into for support, information and lobbying, which can generate more options.
  • Give yourself the best possible chance of reaching an agreement by building a productive rapport with the other party.
  • Use high quality communication skills, demonstrating your readiness to listen and your openness in declaring what you want to achieve.
  • Tune into their needs so that you can take any opportunity to demonstrate cooperation while still keeping broadly in line with your objective.
  • Exploit whatever resources you possess that could be of interest to the other person – your bargaining chips.
  • Avoid settling for a compromise; constantly seek the alternative outcome that provides you with a win/win.