How To Be An Influencer In The Retail Workplace

How To Be An Influencer In The Retail Workplace

This weekend I am taking my children on a quick vacation for my oldest’s 9th birthday. It’s going to be a exciting and fun long weekend for them, but I did buy tickets for us to see the Van Gogh Bedroom’s Exhibit at the Art Institute of Chicago on Saturday. Now, if I blurted out to my boys we were heading to an art museum for a few hours of the vacation they would moan and grumble about it. So, for the past two weeks I have been using influence to share the benefits and history of seeing this amazing exhibit and drawing on our past experiences seeing the works of Van Gogh and other works of art at The Met in NYC, The Getty in LA, and The Louvre in Paris and how those experiences made them feel and how much they enjoyed themselves and how thrilled they were to see iconic works of art we talk about at home and that they learn about in school. This made me think of the deliberate actions behind influencing people to see our perspective and point-of view on subject matter in the workplace. In the workplace, we have to create compelling cases for the things we choose to champion that will have a positive impact on and results in our workplace.

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We humans have a bad habit of talking ourselves out of greatness. We create mental obstacles for ourselves when it comes to using influence or persuasion. Here are some of the most common ways we sabotage ourselves:

  • We’re too scared to ask.
  • We’ve already explained to ourselves why someone will say “no”.
  • We’ve bypassed winning friends over and tried to immediately influence people – [aka: you look selfish]
  • We don’t listen…I mean…actually listen.
  • We talk about ourselves too much.
  • We think it’s “all about me”.

There is a saying I have heard throughout my personal and professional life – there are two kinds of people in the workplace – (1) Those that influence others and (2) the people they influence [aka: leaders and followers]. Influence can really only exist in a relationship that is based on trust. In order for people to take action, chances, or steps you recommend they have to trust you first. It is an unfortunate trait and my least favorite characteristic in our industry that there are simply too many people with hidden agendas – which is an “anti-trust” trait. Gaining trust and establishing credibility takes time, effort, and consistent example. Here are the six main qualities you have clearly possess to be considered influential at work by others:

  1. Credibility
  2. Capability to learn and share
  3. Excellent communication
  4. Trust
  5. Assertiveness
  6. Reliability

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Influencers are able to persuade others through their expertise and reach around five qualifying areas of the business:

  1. Social proof – they are genuine champions for the team and the vision and values of the organization;
  2. Social approval/Likability – they have proven themselves as trustworthy peers and a supportive coworker, they are also seen as company champions by those they report to;
  3. Commitment – influencers are seen as hard-workers who understand the workings of the company and the executives;
  4. Consistency – these employees are consistent in their work, attitude, and results;
  5. Reciprocity – they support their coworkers and help cultivate a fair and equitable environment.

In order to be considered an effective influencer to your team, coworkers, colleagues, and executives – all of these people must be able to understand and trust [there’s that word again] that your word is good and true, you hold yourself accountable to following through on your commitments, you are smart, business savvy, honest, transparent, reliable, and a compelling communicator.

One of the qualities that is frequently a challenge to master in your pursuit of being a retail workplace influencer is to intelligently navigate the difference between being viewed as assertive and being viewed as aggressive.

Assertive: disposed to or characterized by bold or confident statements and behavior <an assertive leader>.

Aggressive: ready and willing to fight, argue, etc. : feeling or showing aggression: using forceful methods to succeed or to do something.

Being assertive is the only way to get your ideas heard/seen, especially when you’re competing with others for visibility, for example – in a meeting. You need to master the art of presenting your thoughts, facts,  and ideas with a high-level of confidence, with conviction, but without aggression. Assertiveness should be consistently practiced in all interactions to maintain consistency in your ability to influence, consistency is key to building credibility. Being assertive, so long as you truly believe in what you’re saying, is a way to cultivate a reputation of authority and earn the ability to influence your peers and employees.

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There are a few other components that help cultivate a reputation of being a Workplace Influencer:

Be Genuinely Personal: Genuine personality goes a long way in the workplace [and in life…just sayin’]. “This is especially important when you’re in a higher position, as a boss or a supervisor. If you isolate yourself, or try to build your perceived authority by distancing yourself from the others, it might only serve to alienate you and put you in a position where you’re viewed with distrust or even resentment.” [Source: Inc.] We all know how important building workplace relationships are for job satisfaction but they are equally important for influence. Personal connections are important for cultivating a sense of team, and if people see you as another person on the team, they’ll be more receptive when you share your ideas or opinions. The key to this is be genuinely imperfect, approachable, and the human…you.

Be Flexible: “Being too stringent or adamant in your beliefs will work against you. In this case, people will come to see you as a stubborn, immovable monolith, incapable of believing in anyone other than yourself. This can decrease the respect people have for you and compromise your overall influence.” [Source: Inc.] Be open to compromise, collaboration, and negotiation. If you are listening and truly invested in ensuring you are using your influence to champion the right things – you will cement your credibility and trustworthiness. Stay true to your beliefs when someone contradicts you, but work with them to find a mutually acceptable solution. When people believe you to be flexible, they’ll be more likely to listen to you even if they’re stubborn in their own right. And you will have some great dialog with someone during the process which builds respect.

Be A Risk-Taker: By being smart and politically savvy you understand the workplace limitation and politics. You also can be aware of how you can adjust your style to share ideas with a variety of audiences without crossing too far over the lines of acceptable and respectful behavior. Often people see too much risk in being first. First to try, to share, to approach a topic. The fear of being wrong and ridiculed (or disciplined/coached) far outweighs the excitement of being innovative. Influencers don’t share that same fear. They are driven to share ideas, thoughts and suggestions that will improve circumstances or results and can create a compelling, fact-based presentation to those that need to understand the importance of the change.

Share The Credit: Great influencers come up with innovative ideas and thoughts and support others ideas that makes sense, support growth, and improve the workplace. They also, when an idea, suggestion, or thought is embraced and implemented in the workplace – give the originator of the idea credit. This helps build trust with the other person[s] and builds their confidence that their ideas are valuable and they will be more likely to support the causes you champion [reciprocity].

It is human nature – when life pushes, we tend to push back. True influencers don’t try to force someone onto their side. They don’t shove their thoughts down people’s throats. Instead they ask questions, help draw connections,  and present a realistic case.  They allow their audience a chance to come to the same conclusion and understand it’s importance and potential impact. The conclusion/result will be far more powerful if you both see the value of it’s merits, independently.

The above practices are basic behaviors. They are, honestly, as basic as human interactions get. As mentioned at the beginning of this article, the average employee tends to over think things and some try to game the system. If you aren’t genuine and don’t use it for a meaningful cause, people will see right through you – fast. And they’ll never forget it. Appeal to the needs of those around you and the world will be on your side. Genuine interest and intent trumps everything. How you use it is up to you.


Founder and Editor in Chief of Excellence In Retail. Published writer. Frequent Podcast Guest. Speaker. Twenty year [oy vey!] retailer. I am passionate about leadership development and workplace culture. 646 246 1380 | [No Sales Contact, please} But it you want to call just to say hello or have a question - that's awesome!

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