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ATD Blog

3 Ways to Boost Your Influence With Social Capital

Wednesday, July 27, 2022
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Our network of relationships depends a lot on whether we have influence. I hear these comments from professionals all the time:

  • “This is a relationship culture, but it’s hard to break in.”
  • “As a talent development professional, people in other parts of the business don’t really think of me as a partner. Our relationships are merely transactional.”
  • “If you don’t have the title, influence is hard to come by in this environment.”

And because we’ve been forced to nurture our relationships at a distance because of the pandemic, it takes more work than ever before to build influence with people you don’t necessarily see every day or have authority over.

In today’s increasingly confounding workplaces, you need to be honest and ask yourself, “Am I nurturing relationships in a way that builds credible influence?”

Relationships are an important part of every facet of our lives. They are just as important at work as they are at home. The need for relationships is human nature. In fact, the need for a sense of belonging and connectedness is one of our fundamental needs—the third level on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and a key driver of engagement, according to Gallup’s research. According to Maslow, we innately long for a sense of belonging and acceptance among our social groups.

That sense of belonging has been tested over the last few years. Many of us don’t feel that connection at all. When we talk of the Great Resignation, it’s as much about us not being connected as anything else.

When we don’t have relationships at work, our only connection to an organization is a paycheck. And that’s a tenuous connection.

How to Boost Your Relationship Quality and Influence

The quality of your relationships is important, whether you’re in a position of authority or not. Relationship quality refers to both the people you are strategically connected to and the relationships you build with them.

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If you want to build influence, you need to work on your professional relationships. Otherwise, you’re just another name on an org chart or on a list of LinkedIn connections.

Relationships go through a cycle of familiarity, likability, respect, and trust. Getting to the point of trust, and deeper influence requires adding value to the relationship. This is what I call building social capital. If you just “take” from relationships, you’ll fail to earn the respect and trust of others. You’ll lose influence.

So, what can you do?

How Social Capital Works and How to Grow It

1. Take the lead. Growing a relationship starts with you. Realize that each party is 100 percent responsible for nurturing that relationship (not “I’ll meet you halfway”).

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Who has invested time and energy in building a relationship with you? Those relationships have the greatest social capital and should serve as your guide. Examine how you successfully built trust within those relationships. Social capital comes from putting “intentional reach” (a career strategy from my FuelForward book) into practice by proactively investing in making genuine human connections with others.

2. Be a help, not a hindrance. Add value to the relationship by being helpful and sharing ideas and resources. One of the problems talent development professionals often face is being siloed; people see you as a separate support function and not part of the team. To combat this, find common values and interests with others and demonstrate a reputation of high integrity and character. People will then start coming to you for your opinion. They’ll care about what you have to say because they’ll sense your investment in what they’re trying to accomplish. Reach out to others on their behalf—you are a connector.

3. Be curious. Ask people how you may be a resource for them. Take time to learn about the challenges they’re dealing with and outcomes they’re trying to achieve. By connecting what would be helpful for them with what you can offer, you add greater value and can deepen social capital.

Watch Your Influence Grow

Social capital develops as you invest in growing mutual selfless professional relationships built on a foundation of empathy, genuine interest, respect, and trust. Social capital grows from these types of experiences others have with you over time. And as your social capital grows, your influence grows. Start with the three steps mentioned above, and you’ll soon see results.

To learn more about how to build your influence, check out Vivian’s book, Influence in Talent Development.

About the Author

Vivian Blade, MBA, MBB, PMP, is a recognized leadership expert and thought leader. Following a successful 20-year corporate career with Fortune 100 companies Humana and GE, Vivian launched her current leadership consulting practice, applying her extensive business, finance, and leadership experience to coach and develop aspiring and established leaders in building high-performance, high-quality, and high-service level organizations. She also works in academia as adjunct faculty for the University of Louisville College of Business. Vivian is the author of two books, FuelForward: Discover Proven Practices to Fuel Your Career Forward, which reveals the unwritten rules to career success, and Resilience Ready: The Leader’s Guide to Thriving Through Unrelenting Crises. She is a contributor to two books published by the Association for Talent Development Find Your Fit: A Practical Guide to Landing a Job You'll Love, and Work the Problem: How Experts Tackle Workplace Challenges.

Vivian has served on the ATD International Conference & Exposition Program Advisory Committee, has presented conference workshops, has content featured in ATD webcasts, and a number of her articles are featured on td.org. She is also a member of the ATD Kentuckiana Chapter.

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