“We’re blind to our blindness. We have very little idea of how little we know. We’re not designed to know how little we know.” – Daniel Kahneman, Author, Psychologist
When I ask people what they think it means to influence a person or group, I’ve occasionally heard this answer: “Winning them over to my ideas.”
BZZZZT. They would be wrong.
It’s a common misconception that the art of influencing means getting your own way or bulldozing people into accepting your ideas. I typically only see such attitudes in leaders who are, shall we say, self-absorbed or not really all that self-aware.
Good leaders – the type of people who have polished their self-awareness with experience – don’t walk into a room expecting the team to nod and agree. Is there really any satisfaction in that anyway?
Savvy leaders are more concerned with listening, getting to a shared understanding and building consensus instead of the ‘It’s my way or the highway,’ route.
Make listening well key to your leadership style
It’s true that it is part of human nature to try to influence other people and persuade them that we are right. (Yes, I’ve been guilty of that.) Everyone does it and it can feel really good – for about 10 seconds.
But when we have listened well and heard well, we are rewarded. Good leaders get that. It’s the suspension of having to own something long enough to have heard what someone has to say. I know that sitting and listening is tough to do because it takes more effort to hold judgment at bay, there are just so many thoughts tumbling around in our heads.
You’re probably thinking, but that’s just not my style. But being a good leader transcends all types of people. I believe everyone has the capability to listen well; it just takes practice and thoughtfulness.
‘Quiet leadership is not an oxymoron’
I was recently on the teaching team for a six-day course. One of our students was a self-confessed introvert. True to type, he tended to be quiet in group situations. Also, true to type, he was thoughtful.
While it seemed that he was processing (taking notes, looking at people who were speaking) the teaching team had some concern about whether we were creating enough space for his participation. Happily, he didn’t disappoint – when he spoke, he had the full attention of the room and significant influence by virtue of listening well and offering deeply thoughtful contributions.
Extroverts tend to ‘think out loud,’ giving the impression of listening less. But studies also show that leaders who spend more time listening than talking are regarded as more effective.
In my experience as a professional facilitator, I’ve learned that one personality style is not better than the other. We can all do this to get to a place of more holistic conversations.
Listen up: Influencing dos and don’ts
Don’t – Repeat a statement again and again. I call that the I’m-going-to-hound-you-until-you-agree approach. (This is also how children get puppies).
Do – Be more collaborative. Learn to listen well and grasp different threads of what people are saying. Then put them together to make a connection between different points of view.
Do – Acknowledge differing points of view.
Don’t – Talk over people. It is a no-no, and so is saying ‘Yes, but…’
Do – Say ‘Yes and…’ It’s much more powerful and shows you are knitting together ideas.
Don’t – Invalidate someone’s comment with ‘I already said that…’
Do – Acknowledge pain or emotion because you’ll be seen as validating a person’s feelings.
Some of this may sound daunting. But in the realm of influencing you are better to be seen as the leader who says, ‘I thought I had the answer when I came in, but I see I did not.’ You show your human side, as a person who is able to challenge their own biases and shift their thinking.
Now that’s a satisfying feeling and one that will have your team giving you respect in a whole new way.
Close the listening loop
Another strategy you can consider as a leader to increase your influence is to wrap up a lengthier meeting or discussion with a short, reflective set of questions, such as:
- What stood out for you today as a result of our conversation? You might get some eye-opening responses.
- What did you like or dislike about this session? If you ask this, be prepared for some honesty.
- What new insights did we take away?
- What is different now than before we met?
These four questions will get you to see the power of thoughtful conversations and understand – in the moment – how your group is thinking when they go back to their desks. After all, influencing is not a one-way street but a shared space of consultation and collaboration.