More influence isn’t always about what you say.
I knew Gary wasn’t happy.
During my first time in a mid-level management role, one of my team leaders was clearly struggling. He looked frustrated, sounded frustrated, and it didn’t take a genius to know something was bothering Gary.
So I asked if I could get him coffee and hear what was on his mind.
He sipped a cappuccino and shared his troubles: he’d been disrespected and abused by a senior manager, his team wasn’t doing as well as he hoped, he wasn’t sure the company’s vision matched his own, and so on.
Gary appreciated my invitation to coffee and the opportunity to be heard. Then I tried to be helpful.
He was halfway through his first issue when I interrupted and offered solutions, tried to help him see the issue or person differently, or pointed out where he might be responsible.
Finally, he looked at me and said, “David! You asked me how I was feeling and what’s bothering me…quit arguing. I’m just trying to answer your question.”
He had a point.
A Common Influence Mistake
Gary might have needed help, or it could be that just talking through what was bothering him would do the trick. Your team may need help, but you won’t be able to help them if you make the same critical leadership mistake I did.
I didn’t keep my mouth shut long enough. I wasn’t truly present with Gary. I had jumped ahead to my own response.
Most leaders think of influence as talking – or maybe leading by example. We see rousing speeches in movies, we remember key pieces of advice we’ve heard from our mentors, and we know we have something worthwhile to share. However, when you think of influence only in terms of what you say, you leave out the most critical piece:
A Columbia Business School study found that when it comes to influencing others, your listening skills outrank your verbal ability. It makes sense. Listening builds trust and helps you get the information you need to offer your conversation partner what they most need.
When it comes to helping someone, good intentions don’t make the difference. Effective action, what you do that works, means everything. I’d intended to help, but in my youthful rush to show what I knew and be valuable, I’d missed the most important thing I could have done.
5 Ways to Listen Influentially
Your team needs you to regularly ask, “How can I help?” When you ask, be sure to really listen. Here are a few tips to improve your listening skills and build your influence.
1. Put down the phone.
Seriously. Put it on silent, put it face down or stash it in a bag. Get rid of it.
You simply can’t give someone your full attention with the mental stimulation of email, voice messages, and texts. Put it away and focus on the person.
2. Maintain eye contact.
Don’t be creepy, but maintain eye contact. For that time, there is nothing else going on and no one else in the world, but the person you’re talking to.
Empathy communicates that you understand how the other person feels. You’re not agreeing or sanctioning – just recognizing their emotions. For example:
- “That must have been frustrating.”
- “Sounds like you felt like no one else cared?”
- “That would be upsetting.”
- “Wow – you must have been excited.”
Before going any farther, take a moment to check for understanding about what the other person said. Use your own words and ask if you’ve got it right. If not, ask questions or encourage them to help you get it. Fully connect with their emotions and thoughts. Until you’ve done that, you haven’t listened.
5. Ask permission.
Once you’ve fully connected to the emotion and the thought, if you feel you have something helpful to add to the conversation, ask permission to share it. This is a huge integrity move and demonstrates tremendous respect for the other person.
It doesn’t have to be complicated. Something like, “I appreciate you trusting me enough to share those things. Would you be interested in hearing ways you might address that or is it enough to get it off your chest?”
When you fully connect and have acknowledged the other person’s dignity, then you’re in a position to be truly helpful. Leave us a comment and share a time when you were influenced by a powerful listener, or your best practice to ensure others are heard.