By Rob Gray, ABC, APR
Let’s face it. Most communicators, at one time or another, find themselves wishing for a “seat at the table” (that magical place where decisions are made – which all too often, isn’t in communications). Or, perhaps, like my current role, you do have a seat at the table, except it’s not your table. (I direct communications for a member-driven organization where, on any given day, I am working with the dollars and reputations of eight shareholder companies).
Whichever the case, having the skills to lead through influence rather than authority, can help you go a long way. Here are the top five things that can help get you there:
1). Build a base of support: One of the most important things to do is get to know whomever it is that will be making (and/or influencing) decisions on your work. This includes seeking to understand their goals, pressures, concerns, and how they think. You can then factor such into your work by tabling solutions that address their needs.
2). Plant the seeds of an idea: Most executives don’t like to be told what to do and especially don’t like being told “no”. Instead, try planting the seeds of an idea so they can make it their own instead. For example, if you disagree with a request made by your CEO, rather than saying “no”, try saying, “we could do that, but have you considered the risks? I wonder if there is another way to approach this?”, which opens the door to a conversation.
3). Park your ego at the door: There’s only room for so much ego in one conversation, so it’s important to leave yours at the door. Listening, understanding and compromising will take you far further than grandstanding and bluster. As part of this, it’s important not to get too tied to your own ideas. (Incidentally, given the public nature of our work, I think this is an essential skill for any communicator).
4). Find the path of least resistance: Know that, often, the preferable option isn’t always the best one – it’s the one that gets you to the finish line. After all, a finished project that is “good enough” has better impact than one that’s perfect but which never sees the light of day.
5). Pick your battles: If you show you are willing to compromise and address the thoughts/feedback of others, people will take note. Then, when you do speak up to fight for something, they will generally listen – provided that you use this tactic sparingly, and in a constructive manner.
Rob Gray has almost 20 years of communications experience, having worked in a variety of sectors including non-profit, healthcare and energy. His career includes leadership roles in the areas of internal and external communication, media and issues management and community relations. Currently, he is Director, Communications and Stakeholder Relations for Canada’s Oil Sands Innovation Alliance, where he helps the sector advance environmental innovation and share that story with Canadians.