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When things aren’t going your way do you resort to negative influence? Do you force or avoid?

Any person who works in an organisation has two basic needs:

* Meet personal objectives

* Maintain or build productive working relationships

This is known as the ‘balance beam’ model, and it sits at the heart of the Positive Power & Influence Programme. The model is about finding a balance – finding a way to hit your business targets while maintaining and strengthening relationships.

While the idea is simple, the reality is anything but.

The key word here is ‘Positive’. No matter the situation, influencing in a positive way can help maintain this elusive balance.

But everyone at one time or another will lose sight of the ball and resort to negative influence – or rather fall into the trap of negative influence. Half the time, we don’t even realise we’re doing it. If asked, we’d probably just say we’re just doing what we need to do to get the job done, or argue that ‘this is how I work’.

The two categories of negative influence, as defined on the Positive Power & Influence Programme, are forcing and avoiding.

Avoiding a situation that causes you stress or anxiety may in the short term alleviate the symptoms of stress, but over time it will damage your standing amongst colleagues and ultimately lead to you missing your objectives.

A common workplace phobia is a fear of public speaking – and many of us (including the author of this article) will sometimes go to outrageous lengths to avoid speaking before an amassed audience.

A more everyday example of an avoiding behaviour is sending an email when you could easily (and more efficiently) pick up the phone. And a more Machiavellian variant might be leaving a phone message when you know someone is in a meeting and will have their phone switched off.

So much for avoiding. What about forcing?

Perhaps a major deadline is looming and the stress is causing you to lose patience with colleagues you don’t feel are shouldering their fair share of the burden.

This is when you may resort to forcing – sacrificing the relationship by attempting to force your will on a situation. Perhaps if you hold positional power – if you’re the boss of the individual, or in charge of the project in question – you might just flash the badge. Take the ’just-do-it-cos-I-say-so’ approach.

This may work, and indeed there may be times when this approach is appropriate. But if you rely on positional power too heavily, you may find it increasingly hard to influence others in high-stress situations when you don’t hold that power.

So forcing may work. But even with positional power at your back, continued forcing behaviours will damage the relationship in the long term. It can lead to resistance through grudging compliance, bureaucratic responses and turf wars, rather than energy and commitment.

So, you need to ask yourself the question: Do I force or avoid?

Self-assessment is a vital part of the Positive Power & Influence Programme.

Before, during and after the Programme, delegates learn to diagnose and recognise their own habits and behaviours – styles of influence they overuse, styles they seldom use, and the times when they turn to negative influence.

Learning to recognise these times is fundamental to learning ways to overcome them.

And it may be time to try to alter your approach. So:

If you’re about to write an email, think about whether it is the best approach, in terms of getting the job done. If it isn’t, pick up the phone. 

If you are encountering resistance, listen to the reasons. Your demands may create needs for the influence target. Listen to what might motivate people to help you take things forward.

Think about your own communication. Are you being specific? Have you shied away from giving direct orders? Generalised instructions will lead to vague commitments.

If you need the help and commitment from someone with whom you have a troubled working relationship, spend time now (on the relationship) to save time later.

If you find it hard to give honest feedback, think about what you like and dislike when others give you feedback.

Perfunctory listening can seem insincere and manipulative. If you are truly seeking to understand someone’s position, you need to be open to hearing what they say.