How to influence change with words of affirmation

We recently spoke about the importance of aligning around long-term goals in times of volatility to provide a business with a clear sense of direction. Once those goals are defined, strong leadership is required to influence change and inspire action. 

The need for strong leadership to influence change has become particularly apparent to me on a recent engagement that we have been involved in. The work was initially focused on identifying behavioural barriers amongst project teams to help them be proactive when identifying growth opportunities and innovating against these, rather than be reactive to market changes and competitor actions. As we immersed ourselves in the challenge and the possible barriers, it became increasingly clear that a key part of driving change in teams’ behaviours rested on the leaders – an expectation to set the tone and build a culture that fostered diverse views while also affirming creative approaches to problem solving.  

Tim Irwin makes the compelling case in his book ‘Extraordinary Influence’ that affirmation – a learnable skill – is key to achieving this. Drawing on the latest discoveries in neuroscientific research, he explains that when we receive praise, our brain releases chemicals which increase our sense of wellbeing, reduces stress and sharpens our problem-solving skills, which in turn, boosts overall performance.

Crucially, for affirmation to be effective it must speak to the individuals core competencies, cherished values, and character strengths. In practice, based on typical work personalities, for example, a ‘doer’ would respond best to praise for doing an excellent job on a presentation or meeting a tough deadline, whereas a ‘challenger’ would best respond to feedback that emphasises the value of their novel approach to projects.  

Provided that values are formed through self-reflection and the influence of others, affirming them requires a leader to be thoughtful and have an ability to pick the right words. To hone this skill, Tim Irwin recommends focusing on two concepts: courage and humility. Lastly, improving your own self-awareness through journaling can help shed light on your emotions and provide insights to better your affirmative communication. 

Another component to successfully driving plans forward is through applying behaviour change thinking to your approach. My colleague Peter explores this in more depth in his article, ‘Clients are human too.’ 

Get in touch to hear about how we can apply deep human understanding to your internal behavioural challenges to influence positive change.