As a construction contractor, your experience has likely taught you that you need much more than construction expertise to achieve success. Communication and “people skills” are equally critical to your success.
Whether your goal is to influence a customer to give you a project, improve management/employee, or customer relationships, create a “buy-in” for a new idea, create a winning team, gain support, or all of these, become a master in the ART of influencing people.
The ability to influence people can seem elusive to some individuals. Others seem to be born with it. They can convince an average performing construction worker to put in extra effort or persuade an owner to agree to cost overruns. Other people seem to struggle just to get people to comply with their simple requests. No one is born with this talent—it’s as much a learned skill as it is an innate ability.
Here are some techniques that will assist you in your efforts to influence people and give you a competitive advantage.
SIZE UP: First, know how to tailor your conversations to the personality of each person with whom you interact. Each of us is unique and, consequently, we respond differently to persuasion. Some people feel easily threatened; others seem oblivious to subtle persuasion. Some individuals naturally trust other people, while others are skeptical. Some people are warm and congenial; others are negative and can even be despondent. You need to vary your approach to each person, whether you are dealing with one of your project managers or a local building code inspector. As you continue to read these various techniques to influence others, do keep in mind the personalities of those with whom you spend most of your time.
ACCESS THE AGENDA: Seek to understand the personal and professional agendas of those with whom you interact—you have your objective, but what’s their agenda? Does it conflict with yours? Is it compatible? Is it completely different? You need to discover their WIIFM (What’s In It For Me?) analysis and speak from there. You also need to understand their daily challenges and what is like to walk in their shoes.
ATTITUDE: Determine the overriding attitudes of those you seek to influence. What are their beliefs and attitudes as they relate to what you want to accomplish? Do they value hard work? Are they hardheaded? Or, do they have a win-at-all-cost attitude? Do they feel they are “too busy” to do as you ask? When you understand others’ attitudes, you’ll see more clearly how they will view your position.
HE SAID, SHE SAID: How can you more effectively communicate, given gender differences? As you well know, men and women react differently. For example, men may be less likely to ask for help from a woman. If you’re a woman supervising a group of mostly male construction supervisors, you will need to keep asking or may even need to take them into a quiet atmosphere to get them to open up. You may have difficulty in finding the right approach to gain their confidence.
WHAT’S HAPPENING? What’s their current state of mind? In other words, is anything happening in their situation that affects their current perception? For example, if you’re speaking with an owner who is worried about a project that is behind schedule, maybe now isn’t the time to ask for referrals or additional business on future projects. If you’re speaking to a group of project managers who you have asked to make drastic budget cuts, you may need to speak more in-depth about the cost-benefit of your actions.
CULTURE CHECK: Take a look at cultural differences. They also influence an individual’s behavior. In some cultures, personal recognition is considered embarrassing. In other cultures, it’s considered rude to discuss business without first getting to know the other party. Still other cultures frown on loud, boisterous appeals, while others expect it. If you know you’ll be interacting with those from a culture different from your own, make sure you learn more about their background
BE DIRECT: The direct approach is usually the most effective way to get your point across or bring an important matter to someone’s attention. It’s also respectful of other people’s time. A good way to do this would be to say, “Hi Marie. I know how busy you are so I’ll be brief. I need to let Jim know when he’ll get the raise he was promised.” Or, “Joe, we have a serious matter to discuss. The owner is not happy with the Superintendent. We may have to put him on other job.”
TALK SMART: You’ll find it easier to influence others if you can memorize a few simple words and phrases that will make a positive impact. Also, you can help your case by knowing which words and phrases to avoid—better yet, eliminating them from your vocabulary. Let’s first look at the positive expressions and a few examples for each. As you review them, think of the situations where you might apply them
Good Speaking Habits
“It’s been my experience that …”
“It’s been my experience that a one-shot safety training program doesn’t work. We need to provide ongoing training for our people.”
“I believe …”
“I believe in your crew’s ability to operate that equipment.”
“I’m confident that …”
“I’m confident that you’ll find our cost-benefit analysis covers all the criteria you laid out.”
“I appreciate …”
“I appreciate your support in my business.”
“Take a look and see for yourself …”
“Take a look and see for yourself, the quality of our workmanship is superb.”
“Would you be good enough to …? Would you be so kind … ?”
“Would you be good enough to give me a hand with these cost projections?” “Would you be so kind as to help Corey reconcile the month-end reports?”
“Thank you!”
“Thank you” is the most important phrase in your business and personal life. Say it often.
Bad Speaking Habits
Just as there are phrases that will help you in your efforts to influence people, there are also phrases that can make it more difficult for you, not to mention that you may come across as sounding weak. Refrain from using these phrases:
“To tell you the truth …”
“To tell you the truth, we use the highest quality materials in the marketplace.” “To tell you the truth, we are considered the best in the city.”
“To be honest …”
“To be honest, we almost always come in under budget.” “To be honest, our equipment costing process is more accurate than other companies.”
“You have to …” / “You’d better …” / “You must …” “You’d better get that delivery to the worksite by the end of the day.” “You must adjust to this new construction software.”
If you are an owner or manager, you surely have the authority to tell people what to do, but the language you choose can make a big difference as to whether or not people will willingly follow your instructions. They may do what you say, but they may not produce quality work or worse, you may lose their respect and come across as “dictatorial.” Refrain from using phrases that dictate to people what they must do. No one likes to be commanded or ordered to do things.
The words you use can make or break your ability to influence people. You may have the greatest ideas, the most logical proposals, the best products and services, but if you’re unable to choose the right words to express your thoughts, it really won’t make much difference.
You can influence others with cooperative phrases that help to deter any resistance you might encounter. These make the other person feel as if you and he are in this together. You can influence cooperation with phrases such as: “I would appreciate it if …,” “Can I rely on you to …,” “What do you say we …” “What can I do to help you …?” and “I’m confident you will ….”
Many times, people won’t readily state their opposition to your ideas. They might not want to face confrontation or perhaps they haven’t fully identified what they dislike about your points. Whatever the reason, you can identify others’ needs or challenges by simply asking questions to learn what’s on a person’s mind.
Remember: Questions lead to answers. Answers lead to rapport, and rapport leads to uncovering what the other person wants to know. As you ask your questions, stay focused on the other person.
You can do this by being “you” conscious, as in:
“What are some of the challenges you are facing?”
“What’s the most important thing to you about this project?”
Here are a few examples of “you” questions to help you learn someone’s opinions or discover what’s on their mind:
“That’s what I think the implications mean. What’s your opinion?”
“John, you appear as if you don’t want to go with this. What are your feelings?”
Asking questions is beneficial because they can provide you with insights you might not otherwise get if you simply present your ideas and assume that the other person will accept them just because you do. Asking questions also gives you the opportunity to observe the other person’s personality and body language. Most important, when you ask another person for their input, you show you have a genuine interest in them.
After you’ve asked a question, make sure you LISTEN to what the other person has to say and respond to what they’re feeling and not necessarily their words. I’ve observed several people who ask a person a question, but never really listen to what they have to say. If that’s how you respond, then you might as well not ask questions in the first place.
When you ask questions, make sure you let the other person answer completely and don’t interrupt. Instead, ask them to tell more. Also, make sure you stick to their subject, and if possible use their words to get your point across.
Don’t forget to watch a person’s body language. As you listen and respond, listen to not only their words, but also what they may be thinking and feeling.
To be sure you’ve understood the content of the other person’s message, paraphrase what they say. Remember to use your own words, or you may be perceived as a person who gives lip service. Paraphrasing not only clarifies and confirms your understanding but also shows your interest and attention. Some common phases for paraphrasing include: “Oh, so you feel that ….” “You’re concerned that …,” and, “You want to be confident that ….”
Here’s how you might use them:
President: “I don’t know. I’m concerned that if we take your recommend to use ABC Asphalt Company as a cost-savings measure, that the vice president of construction will have a hard time accepting your proposal.”
You: “You’re concerned that he would feel I’m interfering with his area.”
Construction VP: “Exactly.”
Paraphrasing will help to make sure that you understand the other person’s concerns. Once you comprehend their issues, you’ll be in a better position to address those concerns, and ultimately, influence the other person to your ideas.
As you respond to others, you need to be as empathetic as possible. When conveying empathy, use your own words to reflect what you think the person’s feelings are. This helps to validate what the other person is trying to communicate.
Some examples of empathetic statements include:
I understand why negotiating that contract has been a challenge.”
“I’m sorry; I didn’t know you were having trouble cost estimating.”
Empathetic statements help validate the other person’s feelings as well as develop rapport with others.
Creating rapport and showing empathy are important for influencing people, but don’t forget that part of influencing people is to get them to do something differently. You need to ASK for what you want. Sales professionals call this “presenting the close.” Closing the sale is not only important in selling situations, but anytime you want to influence someone.
Following are effective examples of how to ask for what you want:
“Can I rely on you to …?” (This is a phrase we have used often as a good example. It’s because it works!)
“Getting the project started is important to me. Will you call me and let me know how it’s coming along and what I can do to help you?”
“How about if we give you a call to set up a meeting about what you think is not working, and see how we can address this.”
You’ll notice that in these examples, the request came in the form of a question. Here’s a tip you can take to the bank: Ask a question immediately after stating what you want. The key is to make sure you move from your request to your question in one breath with no pauses. Try it and you may find that almost every time the other person says yes also. Just be sure that you never sound pushy!
Read through these examples:
“Here’s what I’d like to propose: We can continue our discussion on this tomorrow. Would that be convenient for you?”
“What I’d like to do is contact your project manager. Would you be comfortable with that?”
“Our architect can help you with that. Would you like me to call her right now and have her call you back?
Influence is all about action, and if you don’t give the other person a specific action to take, then all you’ve done is present your viewpoint.
In the rough and tumble world of construction, there’s not a single day that goes by where you don’t need to influence people. Learn, apply, and experiment with what works best for you. Then, you will become a “master” construction professional in the art of influencing people.
About the Author:
Christine Corelli is a columnist, consultant, and author. For more information, call 847.581.9968, or visit
Modern Contractor Solutions, November 2013
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