INFLUENCE STRATEGIES: THE MULTIPLE DOOR THEORY OF INFLUENCE
When it comes to communication we often tend to think tactically rather than strategically. What I mean by that is the tendency is to think short-term - the next conversation, our next email, the next telephone call. There is no question this type of thinking is both necessary and valuable. It’s a skill set for another blog; in fact many more than one. After all planning the next step is important, as is responding to immediate needs. Every meeting or conversation, however, takes place within a larger context. It is within that wider context of personal brand, expectations and assumptions, values that are shared and different, and agendas known and hidden that such conversations take place. This is where the skill of 'influence' lies. Not in the meeting or conversation itself but within the perspectives people have prior to, or after, contact between people.
When it comes to trying to get people to understand our point of view it is vital to be willing to listen even if only to disagree, generate goodwill, or build a relationship. These are all medium- or long-term endeavours. Rarely are they short term unless the nature of the relationship is very immediate and purely transactional. Increasingly I’ve been asked to give advice as to how to do that - whether it be to develop a team, resolve an ongoing employee dispute, or improve an existing relationship. Whether one-on-one coaching, running a workshop or giving advice at a strategic HR level there needs to be a way to think strategically around how we build influence at work. Several years ago I developed what I came to call the Multiple Door Theory of Influence. It was a way for people to step away from thinking about the next point of engagement with an individual or a team, and see how those points of contact fitted within a bigger picture. As a result we can form a strategy of influence, playing the long game, and identify where and in what way we can gain the most leverage in terms of building the influence we want, over who, and with regards to what. That's a short summary of an involved process.
The Multiple Door Theory of Influence uses the simple metaphor of a house with three doors – a front door, a back door and a side door. Each door represents the three key means by which influence typically develops, whether that be at an individual or group level. Each door creates an opportunity to set precedents, establish boundaries, clarify issues, and convey what is important and unimportant. This gives us three options, or combinations of options, for building influence using a simple model easily applied across a range of circumstances and over whatever time frame suits our objectives. With the model we can plan where we apply our efforts, in what way, with who, when and where. Naturally, as with any plan, flexibility is essential. The long-term nature of the model allows for that flexibility and shift of focus when required.
Put briefly the front door represents conversations, be they one-on-one or with a group. They may be informal or a robust meeting of minds. Whatever their nature they are face to face. Planning revolves around what the content of the meeting(s) needs to be (as opposed to what we want it to be), who is involved and why, the lead up to it and the follow up afterwards. The side door represents influencing people through others. Every team has those within it more influential than others. Those people listen to, look up to, admire; the informal social leaders who mentor, train and show others what is unacceptable and acceptable around here. It is these individuals who in turn influence others and without their support, conscious or otherwise, introduction of change and establishment of what is OK and not OK to do around here is much harder to implement. The final door is the back door – team culture or team brand (impression giving and emotional connection). Team culture, very simply, reflects the norm as to how we do things around here. It may be how conversations take place, how mistakes are treated, how feedback is given, how customers are served, how colleagues are managed, what behaviour is supported, or what behaviour is unacceptable and how that is defined and managed. It defines a team and what is really important because it reflects how we behave towards people and what we think. Two factors more than any other help determine culture within a team. They are observations of a) how conflict is managed (reduced), and b) how poor performance is managed (expectations clarified). Master those two core leadership functions and any leader places themselves in a strong position to determine the culture they have through design and not accident.
There it is, put simply, the Multiple Door Theory of Influence.