More $#%& in My Face!

I cannot remember her name, but I will always remember our moment.

I had just started a new training job, and was visiting my new colleagues, bringing with me a small collection of resources we had developed in my previous team—two books, a few manuals, a CD with handy templates. I stopped into the office of an overwhelmed manager, gifts in hand, and introduced myself. She took one look at that stack of stuff in my hands and exploded.

“You know what this is? It’s more $#%& in my face!” 

Needless to say, that stack of stuff was still in my hands when I walked out of the office. 

There was a lesson in there: just because I offer it, doesn’t mean you want it. 

The “it" is content, data, know how, expertise. 

We are deluged with ”it" these days. “It” comes into our inboxes (perhaps like this blog did for you). “It” shows up in our meetings, our one-on-one interactions, and every time we look into that screen. “It” comes in such volume that we click delete, we tune out. We say “yes, but…” 

Many of us are in the business of getting “it" in front of people in ways that help them. We work through influence, and to do that, we bring data, content, know-how. So rejection—even when it is more subtle than the "$#%& in my face” kind of rejection—limits our own effectiveness.

So what do we do? There is not a simple solution in this era of information overload. But this simple equation is worth pondering: 

To wit: we tend to accept advice (influence) from people who know what they are talking about (expertise) when we trust them (relationship).

But generosity with our expertise (E) does not necessarily score us points on the relationship (R) side of the equation. In fact, it can cost us points. Think back to my lovely stack of resources, or the last time you sat through 60 slides worth of VERY IMPORTANT data, or the time your boss heard 3 minutes of your concern, and gave you 20 minutes of off-target advice. 

So, what I could have done, that day long ago? What might have built the R side of the equation?

  1. Be curious instead of helpful. Curiosity allows others to tell us who they are, what their situation is, and what help would look like for them. I could have asked about her day, her work, the piles on her desk, what she might want from someone like me.
  2. Check my ego. "It’s more $#%& in my face! is not so subtle, but it came in response to my own not-so-subtle message.  “I am very smart. My team made all this stuff. How lucky for you to have me here.” I am not suggesting that we undersell our own value. That is not helpful to anyone. Rather, be aware of my intention when making an offer of expertise, and how much of my intention is about seeming helpful versus being helpful.
  3. Just enough and no more. Finally, I might have been selective, really selective, about how much to offer. I could have considered her time, not just mine in that exchange. 

Question:   What are your best approaches for building both sides of the influence equation?