Influencing upward: Communication skills to sway the decision-makers your way

No matter how incredible your ideas are if you don’t have the power to control outcomes they will only collect dust. The power to control outcomes is having the ability to influence upwards. Knowing how to persuasively communicate with your senior leaders to influence the decision-making process is a vital skill to develop. It allows you to get new ideas off the ground, progress on existing projects and build your professional reputation.

If you need to sway the boss to get the green light on your ideas, follow these 3 steps to ensure your communication makes the right impact and fits in with their vision for the organisation.

1. Own the room so they are drawn in from the start

With limited spare time on their hands, our influence on senior managers relies heavily on the impression or experience we give. Often a decision has been made within 30 seconds, so if their attention isn’t captured quickly, it will wander to the next important thing on their busy agendas.

So how do we grab their attention?

Our presence is absorbed by others when we communicate and must be one of confidence and capability to entice others toward our ideas.

Stand (or sit) with a strong posture by planting your feet firmly on the ground, opening your shoulders and lifting through your spine. This will help to project your voice, holding a confident stance in our physiology sends messages to our brain to feel more self-assured as well. Make sure your voice has a quality of authority and your body is conveying the comfort of confidence.

If everyone in the room can feel you are at ease with yourself and sure of what you are about to say, they will be more open and willing to listen. From here, how we begin the conversation then sets the tone and can determine the level of engagement with our topic.

The trick is to challenge the norm…

When we start strong we create a lasting impact to hold people’s attention and convince them our ideas are worth listening to.

While you can start conventionally, with something like, “Good morning…”, sometimes it is more interesting to break the pattern. Starting immediately with a question or a story can do this. Lead into your topic by kicking off with something left of field to capture their attention and excite them from the beginning.

How we hold ourselves and behave in conversations is central to how people perceive us and therefore contributes to our ability to influence upwards. Have a look at this video of my colleague Colin exploring how being conscious of our actions and participation in meetings can shape our professional reputation.

2. Speak their language to engage them with your ideas

Firstly, to draw senior leaders in, they need to recognise why your ideas are relevant to them. So before you jump into the main event, start by setting the context with an explanation of why it is important to them and how they will benefit.

Also, be sure to discuss your ideas from a high-level to best reach the interests of your audience. Decision makers are less concerned with the nitty-gritty, they want to know how it will impact the ‘big picture’.

Secondly, do your research!

In order to influence upward, you need to ensure you understand what is important to them and the organisation. Senior leaders are more likely to connect with the larger needs of the organisation rather than how it will benefit you or your team. Frame your ideas to respond directly to their top priorities.

3. Keep it short and sharp to ensure your message is remembered

Have you ever seen an ad on TV trail completely off topic, or seem uncertain of their point? Never. The very nature of advertising means every word is carefully chosen and positioned to deliver the key message in a short amount of time.

Influencing upward in your organisation is quite similar. Senior leaders will quickly lose interest if you fail to get to the point in a clear and concise manner, so make every word count!

The way to do this is simple…

Often, when we open our mouths to speak but we aren’t sure about what we want to say, we stumble through our sentences and lose our point by allowing ourselves to waffle without purpose.

To avoid this, pause and take a breath to gather your thoughts. Construct your sentence before you open your mouth and deliver each word with conviction.

Also, keep in mind the focus of key decision makers is primarily on success in the future, so try to avoid dwelling on how bad things are or mistakes from the past. To influence upwards, concentrate on how you can help them achieve their goals in the future. You can develop your confidence to influence up at our upcoming Online Masterclass with Alison Carter.

The Colin James Method® Facilitators train corporate executives to improve their professional communication skills with a proven methodology. Our highly trained Facilitators and Coaches are recognised for their experience in their fields and have worked with many individuals and organisations around the world to master the art of communication.

Tim Chilvers

Having led a range of businesses in both small and complex teams, Tim enjoys working with people and organisations determined to realise their potential – those prepared to act decisively and with the conviction required to bring that potential to life.