Forming Influential Alliances with Challenging Colleagues

Working alongside people with whom you have few shared values, little in common, and possibly different aims, can be a significant challenge. But if you are to do your job well, it's a hurdle many people have to negotiate successfully.

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Your role is structured so that you have to work with others to get things done. You can’t act unilaterally: you have to form alliances and work productively with other people if you are to succeed. In fact, you need to find ways of working productively with a range of colleagues, many of whom might have quite different ways of approaching their work to you and some of whom might, at times, have quite different values or aims to you as well. Nonetheless, if you are to build the level of influence you want to have, you need to find ways of getting things done in tandem with a selection of your team members, peers and senior managers, many of whom may have little in common with you. In fact, to get some specific things done you might need to build and maintain influential alliances with selected colleagues, some of which may only last as long as it takes to achieve the aim for which the alliance was formed, others of which might prove more enduring.

Many of your most influential colleagues perform a role which is different from yours, yet interconnected to it. You have to work with them on joint processes and to take joint decisions, because it simply won’t work any other way. You may have sound ideas, but turning your ideas into reality means that you have to influence a range of your colleagues to see the value of your contribution, and to see the merits of working with you to turn your embryonic idea into a practical output. You must work – and be seen to work – with each and every one of your peers and senior managers if you are to turn your valuable your raw ideas into action.

However, working closely with influential colleagues can carry risks with it and the potential that, if you don’t handle things well from the start, there will be some difficulties along the way.

Some of your colleagues might not get what you are saying. They might not see your new idea as an opportunity, but more as a quirky or ill considered gambit. They need convincing. Others of them might like your idea but want to take the credit for it. Others again might say they’ll back you if you can get other people to support you first. Some may – in unusual cases – want to injure your reputation or damage your profile in the organisation and might decide to use your new idea against you, seeing it as an opportunity to discredit you politically. On the other hand, if you handle them well, these very same colleagues could also be interesting, co-operative, and effective co-workers, the very people you need to bring your plans to fruition - and vital to you achieving the aims which matter most to you at work.

The challenge for you therefore lies in finding effective ways to build influence with colleagues with whom you may have:

  • Little, if anything, in common.
  • Little to speak about apart from workplace issues.
  • Divergent approaches to resolving workplacesituations and handling colleague relationships.
  • Widely differing sets of values and workplace principles.
  • Different ways of handling disagreement and conflict.

So, in order to get things done effectively with colleagues like these you will need to:

  • Be mindful of the nature of the political landscape around you.
  • Understand what influences each of your colleagues – especially where these factors differ from what influences you.
  • Identify what they value at work and what they want to achieve – again, especially where their aims and the work processes they favour differ from yours.
  • Find individual ways to convince each of them that it would be in their best interests to listen to what you have to say and to work constructively with you to achieve your goals.

So, the next time you have a new idea or want to initiate something new, spend time formulating a strategy for influencing each of the key players prior to putting your ideas out there. Commit to doing some upfront thinking about who you want to influence and in what specific way. Decide in advance whose support you most need to secure if you are to bring your ideas to fruition, and put together an influencing strategy to enable you to create the kind of influential alliance you need to bring about the outcomes you want.

Aryanne Oade

chartered psychologist, executive coach, author and publisher, Oade Associates Ltd

Hello and welcome to my blog. I specialize in handling challenging workplace dynamics, successfully working from the premise that the additional resources you seek are already within you. My aim is to be a catalyst so you can turn areas where you feel under-resourced or vulnerable into skills and strengths, become resilient in the face of adversity, and develop a life and work experience you are passionate about. Working from the evidence-base of psychology, and over twenty-five years’ experience, clients tell me they experience my coaching and books as insightful, practical, non-judgmental and empathic. My work on recovery from bullying and bully-proofing has been featured in leading publications such as The Independent, Irish Independent (Sunday), Psychologies, Good Housekeeping and Marie Claire. Learn more at