Short-messaging platforms are a hugely unappreciated medium for creating positive influence (+influence). Even though the medium is digital, established comportment from past eras — intellectual rigor, artful expressing, and emotional intelligence — remain equally if not more important.
In our work with founders, CEOs, and other executives, we’ve observed that the most important and sensitive issues are often tackled first via a short message service (SMS) because people don’t want to put it in a “formal email” or say it in person. Regardless of whether your go-to-app is WhatsApp, WeChat, Telegram, Line, or any other, heightening your influence through short messaging will pay off for closing deals faster, improving relationships, and feeling less stress. By appreciating the medium’s unique characteristics and adopting practices that play to the medium’s strengths, you can master short-messaging +influence while avoiding common blind spots.
The overall principles of +influence apply to written media, yet written media (memos, emails, SMS, and so on) has unique characteristics that require extra attention. For example, deeper consideration for what’s on the minds of those you’re seeking to influence, the pressures they’re facing, and the dynamics from the evolving context are important in crafting your message. In contrast to in-person conversation, you aren’t able to see the person’s reaction to correct a misinterpretation or manage a strong reaction.
Further, with SMS, people’s reactions can vary wildly, from silence, to forwarding the message on to someone else, to posting it broadly on the Internet. Immediate, open exchange can’t be assumed. Compared to live interactions, written media makes your own and others’ intentions more opaque. It can be challenging to sense the recipient’s feelings — such as how a project’s outcome affects the person’s sense of identity. Without the other person’s timely response, you must consciously decide when to reply — whether wait and see or go silent.
To master short messaging +influence, become an avid practitioner of the following:
1. Be deliberate about when to call, email, or use SMS. Who is the key person you’re trying to influence? Chances are you have the person’s phone number, email, and WhatsApp/FaceTime contact. If you don’t have the latter, make a habit of getting this information so you have more options for engaging with the person. Your choice of medium should be driven by your influence strategy — how you want the other person to think, feel, and respond.
You will want to call the person if you need to know or manage the person’s reaction and don’t want to leave the person to think in disparate directions. Email the person if you want to formally register something that would be helpful for their reference. Use SMS if you want to have a private, hard-hitting exchange. Put yourself in the shoes of the recipient: what else could be going on for the person when the message appears, and how similar or different would their reaction be using a different medium of communication?
2. Have a clear sense of the recipient’s feelings and attitudes on the issue. This is a key to the conscious, deliberate influencing process and especially important with written mediums since you can’t register the person’s reaction. Do your homework so you can discern what’s on the other person’s mind. Ask others who understand the situation and know the individual. The more you can gain a sense of what makes this person tick, the better you can anticipate how they’ll react. How a top executive responds to the news that a key project has problems depends on how secure the person feels and what other challenges they may be confronting.
3. Set the pace for messaging back. Any follow-up from you requires further insight into the recipient’s state of mind and how it may affect their inclination to deal with the issues. Your own view of the pace required to deal with the matter will have a bearing. Do you have a lot or a little time, and is the recipient on the same or different wavelength?
While it’s considered rude not to answer within a certain timeframe (usually 24 hours), there’s no determining when someone will respond. It’s best to let the recipient know your timeframe and when you’d like to hear back to set the desired pace. Sometimes you need to go slow to go fast, but sometimes going too slow can be a deal killer.
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Tsun-Yan Hsieh is the Chairman and Lead Counselor of LinHart Group, a leadership services firm specializing in advising boards and CEOs globally on leadership effectiveness. Formerly he spent 30 years with McKinsey and founded McKinsey’s Leadership Services serving clients globally. Over the last 15 years, he has served on the boards of Manulife, Singapore Airlines, Dyson Group, Bharti Airtel, and Sony Corporation. Huijin Kong is Principal of LinHart Group, working with CEOs and future CEOs on their most difficult professional issues. She was formerly with McKinsey, working with MNCs and local companies in the US, China, and India. Their new book is Positive Influence: The First and Last Mile of Leadership (World Scientific Publishing Company, June 28, 2023). Learn more at www.positiveinfluence.life, or find out what MBAs learn from it here.