No authority but great influence – is this the new management style?

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Nicki Kavanagh takes a look at how understanding your own purpose, capabilities and limitations are essential when establishing good lines of communication at work.

How many times have you heard the expression from a frustrated manager, or indeed thought yourself – 'Why can't they just do it?' when trying to motivate someone? How do we ensure that individuals are motivated and inspired to take responsibility and initiative in order to fulfil their roles?

Today's businesses have flatter structures, are less hierarchical and are empowering their staff. Senior managers need to win people’s trust, gain their respect and motivate others to work with them. Clear, specific and inspirational communication is essential, but gone are the days of prescriptive 'tell' methods of delegation. We all need to feel that we are being treated fairly, equally and with respect.

However, businesses must remain competitive, reducing costs and improving turnaround times wherever they can. This puts more pressure than ever before on the individual to provide a 'value-added service' for internal and external customers.

How do we create this environment in the workplace? It is worth considering one individual first, before thinking about anyone else – yourself. How do others perceive you? Does your reputation precede everything you do? Does it help or hinder you? Are you a big picture or detail person and what do you expect from others? By knowing ourselves first, we develop an understanding of our strengths and weaknesses and how we are likely to respond in a given situation. We are then better able to understand others’ styles and can learn to adjust our responses according to the needs of those we are communicating with. So what motivates you?

  • Achievement and control and the feeling that you are driving a situation? Do you react negatively when put under undue pressure or when given a direct order?
    or
  • Being communicated to in a positive way, having developed a rapport first? Do you find rejection or being ignored hard to accept?
    or
  • The feeling that you have enough time to adapt to new situations and being allowed to suggest your own time scale for the completion of a project or task? If you are forced into a position, do you react negatively?
    or
  • Knowing the facts and detail - understanding the implications and probable effects of a proposal before accepting it? Is being forced to act without fully understanding a situation a profound de-motivator for you?
  • When communicating our needs to colleagues and sub-ordinates, it is important to be explicit about what we require, both on a task and emotional level. For instance, if you need a budget forecast, what information are you looking for that will put your mind at rest and create a feeling of trust in he/she who creates the report? Will a one page overview, giving a summary of the key points be enough for you, would you prefer to sit and talk through the 'big picture' with the originator to get his/her views or do you require a detailed breakdown of every total? And will you be passing the information onto anyone else? What are their needs?

    By giving away key 'tips' about how to communicate with us, we create opportunities for others to motivate us and satisfy our emotional needs. Taking responsibility for communication includes being responsible for motivating others. We must then enable others to consistently and reliably carry out the tasks we set them, in order to create a basis for trust.

    Understanding one's own purpose, capabilities and limitations are essential in preparation for a successful interaction. It is also vital to understand what the other person’s objectives and needs are. Objectives may not be the same for both parties and potential areas of resistance or conflict should be considered first. When we do not agree with someone else's point of view, it is possible to empathise with their position without relinquishing our own goals. Our EQ (emotional intelligence) or emotional maturity acts as a 'filter' for communication and includes such attributes as responsibility, accountability, assertiveness and positive thinking.

    For instance, when meeting with a colleague from another business area over a contentious issue such as resourcing requirements for a combined project, it is always useful to ask for your colleague's views first. He/she may say "I can't release the resource for your project at the moment, we have too many other priority projects in progress that cannot be over-ridden." An empathetic, emotionally mature response would be, "I understand the pressures on you and your team to deliver. However, I would like to discuss how we ensure that this project is treated as a priority, because of the impact it will have on….. Are there any elements of the work that we can combine with other projects in the pipeline to reduce the risk of duplication and ensure efficient use of your team's time?" The response shows understanding of the colleague’s position and a suggested solution, without compromising the original objective.

    So how can these skills be utilised in our everyday lives? Influential communicators effectively apply the tools of communication by listening, analysing and responding appropriately.

  • The ability to listen attentively is vital, that means moving away from the distractions at your desk, such as the paperwork, latest e-mails, internal mail and sitting down face to face. Real needs, such as emotional and social needs are often give away through 'hidden messages' such as body language, voice tone etc. and must be watched for carefully and wholeheartedly.

  • Analysis of information can only take place once you have the 'full picture' and it may be necessary to probe and question for some time to get all the details in place. Information can then be structured in order to focus on core issues.

  • Responding appropriately always means positively and assertively. By using motivational language such as verbal pictures, analogies and humour, we are able to achieve constructive outcomes. Focus on clear task outcomes by identifying dates, times and responsibilities, but also ensure that emotional needs and questions are answered in the way the tasks are 'packaged'.
  • Once we are able to modify our behaviour in order to create mutual understanding, it is possible to communicate with influence. Positive business relationships are centred on shared motivation and purpose. Authority over another individual then becomes unnecessary and it becomes possible to really make things happen without a carrot or stick in sight.

    Nicki Kavanagh is a director of Maurice Kerrigan Presentations (UK) Ltd, a company working with organisations in the formulation and implementation of corporate communication strategies.

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