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Not Happy, Jan!

Sitting in my home office in the burbs of Alice Springs on a glorious Thursday morning, a car pulls into my driveway.

It was an unnamed gentlemen from a Northern Territory department.

Apparently, he had come to give me a lesson on how NOT to effectively use influence or authority.

Did I mention that my office is in my home and that I am not a retail outlet or a government department into which one just walks? For me, that comes with a level of engagement that takes into consideration my son’s dirty washing, the washing up and my furry teeth. Perhaps a quick phone call before arriving?

Mr Department explained he had come to inspect some paperwork I had to complete.

My response was, “I’m sorry, I’m on my way out the door to a coaching session which starts in 25 minutes”. His authority based response? “That’s okay, this takes 5 minutes”. I replied, “I’m sorry, my priority at this time is to my client and to arriving for that session ahead of time and in the right frame of mind to be 100% focused. I’m happy to make a mutually appropriate time with you”.

I offered him a five hour window to meet on the following Thursday, a week away. His response was again ingrained in authority, asking, “Can it be sooner?”. I explained apologetically that my diary is fully booked between now and that time. He agreed with “Okay, we’ll see you between 12 and 5 on that day”. And when I asked if he could be more specific about a meeting time in the event that a client wants to book an appointment, he replied “No”.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t wish to undermine the work of this man or his department. I fully appreciate he and they have a job to do.

However, even when you are in a position of authority, applying it without emotional intelligence is never going to win you friends, nor influence your enemies.

Had Mr Department considered a few points before knocking on my door, he would have had my full and usually friendly and curious attention:

√   Businesses are carrying additional bureaucracy during Covid – a time when they are almost entirely focused on service delivery and staff
√   Not all businesses are alike and therefore some pre-thought on the idiosyncrasies are mandatory for full and true engagement
√   When I said I was not available, his respect for my immovable business priorities (customer over bureaucracy) rather than butting up against it would have won me over

Catching my own internal chatter becoming narky, I got a grip on the fact that I too am a stakeholder and active participant in this influence over authority scenario.

I gathered my thoughts, thanked him for his tireless work, and apologised for my inability to invite him in for coffee. I finished with “I look forward to meeting you next week and hearing about your work” (which I genuinely meant) to set the scene for a positive meeting next Thursday.

There are hundreds of examples each week where we find ourselves in a situation of influence, but without authority, even individuals who work at the top of the tree.

If you’re looking for true engagement, take the essence of these three points and apply it to the staff member, situation, business, mouthy teen or boss you are trying to influence.

As we’re seeing in many scenarios unfolding around the world, authority seems to have less and less relevance these days.

Consider how you can learn to influence people, more junior, more senior and at your level as ultimately, it’s a win-win scenario.

Oh! Finally, if you’re not sure who Jan is or just want a trip down memory lane to remind yourself how Jan became part of the Aussie vernacular, click here to see Jan and her boss and how they are a perfect (and funny) illustration of what not to do.