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When I saw the PDC posting for a seminar on “Managing Upward” I was attracted by the possibilities! In my position as Director of RITS, one of my most important responsibilities is to act as an advocate for my 14 team members and do my best to secure the resources they need to advance the mission of the library and to implement new ideas and programs. Often it is not only a question of “selling” to the Library Dean (AKA Lynn), but to influence other departments (for instance, IS) that an idea or proposal is desirable. The objectives of the workshop touched on some of the skills that are important to success in this area: identifying my influence style, finding how to leverage different types of “power”, how to build trust, and identifying tactics to align with my boss and enhance our working relationship.

I was joined at the workshop by others from ZSR Library (Leslie, Steve and Chris) who had their own objectives for the morning, so you may hear a different take on some of the ideas presented and discussed.

The first part of the day was spent exploring the idea of influence. Influence was defined as “the power and ability to effect the actions, behavior and/or the opinions of others.” It is important to recognize your “natural” influencing style, but just as important to understand the type of style is preferred by those you need to influence! Four different types of influencing techniques were identified, each with different “buckets”:

  • Reasoning (buckets: Rational Persuasion, Legitimizing). Using logical arguments and evidence or using your authority can be useful when there is not a lot of time and there is need for quick decision making.
  • Participating (buckets: Collaboration, Consultation Building, Alliance Building). This is a technique that we use often in the library where we seek buy-in to move an initiative forward. It also is a viable approach when you don’t know the answer and need input, or when you have an idea but can’t pull it off alone!
  • Reciprocating (buckets: Exchange, Pressure). This one was described by a participant as the “carrot or stick” approach. You can exchange support for your needs by promising support for theirs. This approach is also the only where you can put pressure on through such techniques as persistent reminders.
  • Relating (buckets: Personal Appeal, Inspirational Appeal, Ingratiating). This the the type of influence where you appeal to loyalty, values and ideals, or use compliments to gain support.

Next, we talked briefly about bases of power that each person may have: Reward (Do you have the power to reward the person who you are trying to influence?), Coercive ( Do you have the ability to withhold from or punish the person?), Referent (Do you have the ability to influence based on your personal attributes?), Expert (Are you the subject expert?), and Legitimate (Is your ability to influence due to your formal role and responsibilities?). When talking about having personal power to influence, we are talking about referent power and it is based totally on trust.

How do we become trusted? The discussion of trust was broken down into two major components: personal capacity for trust and transactional trust. All of us have some kind of foundation for how we think about trust. It is usually shaped at an early age by such things as family stability, loss and feeling trusted by others. I might be a person who presumes trust until someone proves they don’t deserve it. Or I may be a skeptic who requires a person to prove they are trustworthy. This shapes how we think about trust but it’s helpful to understand how the people we want to influence feel personally about trust as well. Additionally, we build trust through transactions and every one of these transactions either builds or erodes trust. Transactional trust is broken into three areas and each of us has one that is our “trust” strength: communication, contractual and competence.

  • Communication Trust is fostered by openly sharing information, not surprising people at the last minute, being candid about your own feelings and asking or and being receptive to feedback without defensiveness.
  • Contractual Trust is fostered by making and keeping agreements, doing what you say you are going to do, not over-promising/under-delivering, making it right when you’re wrong, holding others accountable for their agreements and being willing to make a commitment.
  • Competence Trust is fostered by demonstrating respect for people’s skills, supporting acquisition of new skills, providing a safe place for people to learn from mistakes, not micro0managing, providing whole projects (not just tasks), and giving challenging assignments outside a person’s safe zone.

We were asked to pick which one of these was our natural tendency. Most of us chose “contractual” but I must report Steve’s strength was “communication” and Chris was the lone person to self-select “competence.” The interesting part of this exercise was the instructor’s premise that whichever of these is your primary strength is probably the one for which you set the highest standards for others. So if I am contractual and my boss isn’t, I will have difficulty if she doesn’t value meeting deadlines (no worries there!). Again, understanding how the people you want to influence value the different transactional trusts can help inform how you approach them.

Finally, we quickly covered the ways to align with your boss. These were all things that (in my opinion) are basic common sense things (but important):

  • Know what your boss cares about
  • Make the most of time with your boss
  • Help your boss be successful
  • Don’t surprise your boss (I can vouch for that one!)
  • Don’t approach your boss with only problems
  • Clarify mutual expectations early and often
  • Admit mistakes
  • Take 100% responsibility for the relationship with your boss

I found the workshop to be useful in that it validated many things I intrinsically know, but it was good reinforcement to hear it articulated in a formal presentation!