5 Ways to Better Influence Without Authority (Even if You Have It)

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As a physician leader, you will no doubt have the honor of owning a major change initiative at your institution at some point (if you haven’t already), and you’ll be forced to find ways to bring numerous stakeholders on board without having any authority over them. As healthcare  organizations become larger and more complex, the issue of influencing without authority becomes a bigger and bigger challenge.

Fortunately, this problem isn’t unique to healthcare, so a significant body of research exists on how to handle these situations. Even if you do have authority over those you are trying to enlist, these strategies will help you accomplish your goal in a way that’s more pleasant for you and everyone else involved.

Build your informal network

Ideally, you’re reading this before you’ve been confronted with this problem, because this is a step you should take before you try to launch a major initiative (but it will still be valuable even if you’re in the thick of things, and for anything you try to accomplish in the future). You don’t necessarily need to have authority over people to make them want to help you if they already like and respect you.

I’m sure you already have some people at your organization who are in your corner, but you should make a concerted effort to develop more of these relationships, especially with anyone you can see has influence over others. Set aside some time out of every workweek for relationship building. Invite people to have coffee, talk to them about their cases, get to know them on a personal level. Consider this one of your formal job duties so it doesn’t get put on the back burner. Once you’ve developed a positive rapport, it will be much easier to ask them for things than it would be if you had never talked to them before.

Ask for input

No one likes to be asked to take on a lot of work without being consulted or involved in the planning process. Anyone who will be heavily involved in your project should have the chance to at least weigh in and share any concerns or challenges they anticipate. You do not have to take all of their feedback or suggestions, and you may wish to make this clear up front, but at least let people feel that you are willing to listen and take their feedback to heart as much as you can.

Understand that not everyone thinks like you

You might not think of yourself as working in sales, but you are a salesperson. You have to sell your ideas to others. In order to do so effectively, you need to understand how to make your message appealing to them. A helpful shortcut to tailoring your message is to learn about different social styles or personality types. Knowing what your style is, and learning the styles of those are you are trying to influence, can be very helpful when making your “pitch” and when thinking through who to ask to do what.

There are numerous theories about personality types, but they all generally group people into one of four categories (you can learn more about social styles here) :

  • Driver: Drivers are results-oriented, and respond best to quick decisions and friendly competition. Just tell them what you are aiming for and let them run. Don’t force them to sit through long meetings and hash out small details. These are your go-to people when you need something done fast.
  • Expressive: Expressives are social butterflies. They’ll be particularly responsive to the informal networking technique I discussed above. Because they are so outgoing and have big networks themselves, they are great for drumming up enthusiasm or connecting you with others.
  • Amiable: Amiables are expressive’s quieter counterparts. They also build many solid relationships, but they tend to do things behind the scenes and don’t want to draw a lot of attention to themselves. Appeal to them on an emotional level and ask for their opinions (probably in private), because they don’t often get a chance to share these otherwise.
  • Analytical: Analyticals want to see data and think things through logically. Give them the facts and the time to mull them over. Once they come to the conclusion that there’s enough evidence to support what you’re asking for, they’ll be on board and can help you find the best way to do something.

Address resistance with self-reflection

If you encounter resistance, it’s easy to ascribe negative attributes to those people: they’re lazy or old-fashioned. While this is no doubt true in some instances, it’s also very possible that the problem is you. Maybe you haven’t done a good job explaining why you’re asking them to do something and what the benefits are to them and to the organization. Maybe you’re greatly inconveniencing them and you haven’t thought through ways to minimize their burden. Regardless, the best way overcome resistance is to hold up a mirror to yourself and try to determine if there is anything you could be doing differently before you assume that everyone else is at fault.

Say thank you

When someone does something to help you, even if it is their job, acknowledge them. If they’ve done an excellent job or have gone out of their way, thank them publicly. Not only will this make the person you’re thanking happy and more willing to continue to help you, it may also inspire other people who would like to receive public praise.

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