Think about an idea that never saw the light of day. Think about the one that got away. What would have changed if you had pursued it differently?

Hopefully, there isn't a major chasm in your life or your work...but no doubt you can think of an idea that could have made a big impact had it materialized.

I can think of several, although some are more galling than others. One that I particularly reflect on is a research initiative I proposed early in our organization's history. Unfortunately, when I presented it to other leaders in the company, I didn't make the case clearly or strongly enough that we should put the effort into this research.

Our company even encourages innovative ideas and trying new things...however, we chose to focus on other initiatives. That was fine, as we had our reasons, and we've still been able to grow and have seen great success, but one of our major competitors conducted similar research that got major press and helped build their brand. We would've been first to market with it, and it could have helped a David fight a Goliath.

So what happened? The idea was obviously solid and our company is definitely open to new ways of working and out-of-the-ordinary ideas. The issue was that I couldn't influence the key decision makers. I didn't earn the right to push this idea over all the other priorities of the day.

That's why influence is so difficult--you have to earn the trust, commitment, and support of people who are likely dissimilar to you. Their priorities aren't the same, they have their own strongly held beliefs, and they likely think and behave very differently than you do. You might be a data-driven, logic-head who will have financials, market analyses, and a clear answer to the "Why?" question. But if your boss is a gut-thinker who wants to connect ideas with people, all the logic in the world may not sway his thinking if the emotional pitch isn't right.

In order to influence, you have to ask the right questions to understand what really matters to your matter who they are or how they think. Here it is--8 questions you can ask yourself about your audience that will ensure you're covering the bases and start you on the path to influencing others.

  1. Who exactly is my target audience? Knowing your audience at a deep level can pivot you from being merely "convincing" to being truly "influential." I'm talking about going deeper than job title or personality...research what drives them, what they're working on, what they read, etc.
  2. What is the target audience's relationship with me? If you know who your audience is broadly, specifically look at their relationship to you and how that could affect their reception of your message. What's your history? Think back on any prior experience to garner ideas.
  3. What is going on their world right now? Understanding what they're analyzing and how they perceive the world around them is key.
  4. What do they already know about the subject? People want to see that you've done your homework. You need to find new angles--which means you've got to understand what information people already have and come at it from another direction.
  5. How will this subject or idea impact their work? What are the positives and negatives? There's a cost-benefit to everything, and by addressing the impact from all perspectives, you'll be seen as more of an expert.
  6. What are their potential talking points and next steps? Many times, those whom you are influencing will be able to influence others, so make sure they're prepared and fully ready to do so.
  7. What will keep them from adopting my message or idea? Laying out the clear, concrete potential objectives and going through them systematically will save you the hassle of answering them later. Ask for additional concerns--it's all about preparation.
  8. What are my audience's potential preferences that I need to consider? Everyone has thinking and behavioral preferences that often do more to drive their decision making than other, more tangible, day-to-day things. Look for clues around their verbals (loud and outgoing versus quieter and internal) and their approach to getting things done (more peacekeeping and conciliatory versus more driving or competitive). Adjust your behavior to match.
  9. How does what I'm presenting fit into my audience's big picture? If you're looking to influence others, you need to be thinking broadly. Not everyone has a huge vision for every part of their work, but everyone puts things into a broader context. Make sure your ideas fit into that context.
  10. What keeps my audience up at night? Address exactly what your idea or thought changes for your audience. Everyone has something that can be improved--but until you look deeply for what that is, you could be looking to influence a problem that doesn't exist.

These are principles of influence that will allow you to create the best potential to earn the trust and action of those around you.