You may have heard of Dale Carnegie’s book, How to Win Friends and Influence People. There are some very worthwhile principles in this book that deal with developing relationships with people. While friendship isn’t necessary for the office, it becomes a better place to work if people can get along.
Three of Carnegie’s principles of winning friends and influencing people can be adapted to the workplace. These principles can help you develop beneficial relationships, then use those relationships to influence people at work.
Become Genuinely Interested in Other People
Water cooler chit-chat won’t help you if your focus is always on you. “I did this,” or “Here’s what I think about that,” is often how people talk. People love to talk about themselves.
But, if you can switch that interest and become genuinely interested in other people, you’ll become someone people enjoy talking to, and you’ll be able to selectively influence people on issues you think are important.
Remember, you already know everything there is to know about you, so don’t waste your time talking about you and your ideas. While it’s not appropriate to get too personal in the office (especially with people over whom you have hire/fire/evaluation power), it is appropriate to talk about their outside interests and use that information to build relationships.
For instance, “Hey, Karen, I saw that the Dodgers won last night. You must be thrilled!” While simple, it isn't personal, and it’s not invasive. But it tells Karen that you care enough to know her favorite team and that it's important enough to you that you paid attention to last night’s game.
You should know people’s marital status, how many children they have, and the general health items. You don’t need to dig into their personal business, but giving an employee or a coworker a small, inexpensive gift for her baby’s first birthday will demonstrate concern.
When John tells you that he’s stressed because he’s had to move his grandmother to the nursing home, inquiring about his grandmother every few months can show you care.
While the above are great for building a relationship, you should also focus on specific work-related tasks. Inquire about family, hobbies, or other interests the employee has while you follow up on projects that you assign to others or with people who need to provide you deliverables.
When you are asking about work-related issues, be cautious in your wording since the wrong words can lead to the wrong impressions.
Good Examples of Expressed Interest
- I saw that you were handed the Jones project. Congratulations, you’ll do an awesome job. How’s it going?
- Hey, have you decided on a vendor yet for the Jones project? I saw the presentations too and wondered which one you thought was the best fit because I’ll probably need something similar later this year.
Bad Examples of Expressed Interest
- Have you got everything under control on the Jone’s project?
- Who is your vendor for the Jones project?
In the first examples, you’re demonstrating that you think your coworker is a capable worker. In the second, you sound like you’re second-guessing their ability to handle the job.
Always congratulate people for jobs well done, and offer help and sympathy when appropriate. This doesn’t mean that you have to take over and do extra work—your job is still yours and their jobs are still theirs—but you do want to let people know that you’re available.
Influence Your Coworkers
If you have an idea and are convinced it should be implemented, the best way to do it is to persuade people that it was theirs. This may seem contradictory for advancing in the workplace, but it’s a key way to influence others.
But what advantage is there to let your peers or direct reports think they created your fabulous ideas? If you're trying to influence people at work, you want them to feel good about themselves, and there’s no better way than congratulating them on an awesome idea.
This strategy can be a bit tricky, and you can’t just say, "Jane thought of that." But, if you’re in a meeting discussing a project, you can steer the conversation toward assigning credit. Here’s a sample dialogue.
Boss: We’re really having difficulty getting the finance team to get the right projections so we can submit our headcount projections for next year.
You: Working with finance is tough. Like you were saying yesterday, Kevin is the key person for contact in finance. Maybe we should set up a meeting with him. If we can get him on our side, it could be possible to get the whole finance team working on this.
Your claim shouldn’t be a complete fabrication. Your boss has undoubtedly mentioned Kevin before— you’re simply reminding them and presenting your idea. The boss will feel silly if they say no to Kevin since they were the one who said he was the key person in finance.
The result is in this example was not so much about getting your idea implemented, but creating awareness of a solution while making it seem as if the idea was your boss'.
Begin With Praise and Honest Appreciation
If you don’t appreciate the work others have done you will come across as fake, manipulative, and conceited.
You might consider switching the way you think of others. Showing appreciation for the work others do that make your life easier will go a long way in creating relationships at work that are beneficial.
For instance, the person who starts the coffee pot before you get in, the admin who keeps your calendar straight, and the person that maintains the client database all do jobs that make your job significantly easier.
This is also true of the janitor that cleans and stocks the bathroom, the cooks in the company cafeteria, and the payroll department that ensures you get paid on time and accurately every single pay period.
Many people don’t stop and think about those people, and as such don’t appreciate them. Start by saying “thanks” to the janitor every time you see her. Make a point to use her name. If you don’t know it, find out by introducing yourself, “Hi, I’m Jane. I see you all the time, and I’m afraid I don’t know your name.”
Don’t worry if the same person has been cleaning the office for three years and you’ve never asked. It is never too late to act, begin building relationships and start influencing people at work.