“One of the conventions of Star Trek is that all alien life forms can communicate with Star Fleet Federation vessels in perfect English. Communication is made via the Universal Translator, a device that permits fluent two-way communication. Sadly no such device exists between employee and managers. All too often communication breaks down between boss and direct report because neither is speaking the same language, albeit they are speaking in a language common to each. The problem lies not in words but in expectation. For example, the boss wants an overview but the employee provides granular detail. Or vice versa. So unlike in Star Trek neither is truly communicating with the other.”

This excerpt1 from a column of mine sets up the themes that Geof Cox addresses in Getting Results Without Authority. While Geof’s book is not a Universal Translator, it does go a long way to help people to communicate effectively with each other and in so doing, get better results. And while I was specifically thinking about the communication between employees and managers, the same principles are true for anyone you are trying to influence, as Geof points out throughout his insightful book.

First, you need to get on the same wavelength. As anyone in the hospitality business knows, the key to gracious hosting is knowing the preferences of your guests. For example, returnees to a favourite bed and breakfast are likely to have their favourite drinks awaiting them, plus their favourite menu items. Why? Because the owners know what their guests like and do what they can to provide it. The same goes for people who seek to influence. It is important to know how someone likes to receive information; in short bursts via email or in lengthy reports with plenty of back up material. Oral presentations may be made in short form or long. Knowing the preferred method of the person you are trying to influence is essential to persuasion. So, exchange ideas about how you each like to receive information, how often and about what issues.

Then tune into the conversation. Listen to what the other says. This is not as easy as it sounds because the temptation, often exacerbated by the pressure of deadlines, is to leap to conclusions. The simple answer is to ease up on the schedule and pay attention. Making sure you understand what is being communicated will mean you end up saving a good deal of time.

To increase your influence with senior executives inside organizations, make sure you align your ideas or your project to the corporate objectives. If you know your organization is seeking to grow new markets, then think how your project furthers that aim. Likewise, if your company is stressing quality, look for ways to reduce errors and defects. Influencing an organization is like riding a horse – it is best done facing the direction of travel.

Another key theme of this book is that influence is power but its power does not always depend upon title or rank. People who exert the most influence may not have much power. While most organizations are hierarchical, real influence is often directed laterally as well as upward. Power comes with title but influence stems from trust, chiefly from persuading people that you can do the job. Be prepared. Know your facts as well as you can. This preparation will give you the confidence to present or advocate with energy and enthusiasm. This will lend your case and your team a sense of presence and immediacy.

Getting Results Without Authority is a distillation of Geof’s work in helping managers learn better ways of getting things done, on time and on budget, but also with improved clarity and commitment. Teaching is something in which Geof excels and for that reason, this book will be a hands-on guide that will help you become a more effective leader and manager.

If you apply the tips and techniques in his book, you will in effect be creating your own translator. The only problem is that it is not universal. It is specific to each situation. You need to “re-program it” for each relationship you have. But once you do it a few times, you’ll become expert and just as in Star Trek be able to communicate with, and influence, any alien (boss, colleague or employee) you encounter!

John Baldoni
Ann Arbor, Michigan
February 2010

1 Excerpt from a Fast Company blog by John Baldoni