You may not have direct authority over your coworkers and peers, and when you want them to do something or execute a certain task, you may not be in a position to simply deliver an order and expect a response. But if you're all part of the same team, their actions will have a direct impact on your own success, and vice versa.
This situation is very common in most workplaces, and HR experts refer to this challenge as "horizontal management". Could your horizontal management skills use a boost? Tips like the ones below can help you rally your team, provide a clear sense of direction, and generate the encouragement your coworkers need to bring their best efforts to a given project.
1. Focus on the positive and avoid the negative.
If your coworkers aren't obligated to listen to you, and your words generate feelings of irritation, inadequacy, panic, or even boredom, expect to be tuned out pretty quickly. Without the badge of real authority, tyrannical leaders become harmless buzzing mosquitos…unless they have something positive to bring to the table. Shape your words and actions to make sure you're building up instead of tearing down, and moving forward toward a worthy and enticing goal—not backward against your team's natural leanings.
2. Thank those who acknowledge and listen to you.
You may not think your gratitude and praise have any special appeal—After all, you're just a peer (or even an underling). So how much weight can your opinion possibly carry? A lot, as it happens. Humans are social creatures who are wired to enjoy pleasing each other. If you smile at someone, it's hard for them not to smile back. And people like smiling. Even if you're just a summer intern, your approval and gratitude have more influence than you realize.
3. Use your borrowed authority as a last resort.
Don't use a shotgun to kill a fly, and always start with your least forceful weapons when you launch into a potential conflict of wills with another person. Start your engagement with a phase like this: "I'll need the finished spreadsheets by four." Wait until you receive serious pushback before you pull out arguments like "The director told me to tell you she needs the spreadsheets, and if they aren't finished by four, she told me specifically that heads are going to roll." Use your own personal authority before you have to borrow someone else's.
4. Share your vision.
If you can clearly envision what shared success will look like, use your words to paint a glorious picture for your team. For example "If we win this game, we'll be heroes! They'll carry us off the field on their shoulders!" or "If we land this contract, this will only be the beginning…This will lead to others, the company will grow, and we'll all be promoted next year!" Share your personal excitement, and set a positive example by throwing yourself into the most daunting and difficult tasks.
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