“Good listening skills focus more on the relationship and feelings side of people and therefore complement our efforts to convince others to our way of thinking.”
Influencing without Authority in on of our training programs, Influencing Without Authority, I have observed many recurring patterns and pitfalls that are shared by the various different groups of functional managers, project managers, and sales people who have gone through the training.
One pattern in particular is that people often equate influencing with convincing. However, convincing is a more self-centered way of communication.
For example, I recently trained a group of middle level managers at a large multinational company in the energy sector. The manager of the pricing department expressed challenges in winning support from the GM of the sales department. He was invited to roleplay his talk with the GM. In observing the conversation, we realized that both sides were busy and effective in presenting strong arguments related to their departmental interests and concerns. However, there was really no “interaction” between the two because there was no overlap in the contents discussed and neither was “listening” to the other. The result was that both were good at convincing, but no influence happened.
Good listening skills play a critical role in helping to connect two conflicting parties and open up the opportunity to solve a problem together. Without good listening, a stalemate between both sides will be the most likely result.
Here are a few reasons why using good listening skills and influencing without authority are just as important, if not more important, than being able to use verbal power to convince someone to meet your needs.
To influence is to understand
Many organizations in today’s fast-paced world have a results-driven culture. When it comes to communication, a results-driven style also becomes the norm. Values such as being direct, clear and logical with hard facts and figures are encouraged when interacting with internal and external clients.
Nevertheless, in real life situations, for influence to happen, no matter whether you are selling a product to an external client or trying to overcome a conflict with an inter-departmental colleague, understanding the other’s needs and concerns becomes critical to influence them to buy or to change opinions. Exploring a customer’s needs and challenges, or the concerns of a colleague from a different functional department, is often required if one wants to influence them. Without communication behaviors geared towards understanding of the other, efforts to influence tend to be pointless. All in all, good listening skills are the tools to use to open up, explore, and to understand our targeted person/group before making any attempt to influence them.
To be understood, first try to understand
We often hear people complain about others being too “pushy”. Constantly sending messages in hope that others will accept becomes pushy and communication becomes one way. On the other hand, listening is a sign of showing respect and is an invitation for two-way communication. Instead of pushing, we pull the other to our side. When we want to influence someone, we expect to gain their acceptance first. By practicing good listening skills we understand and show respect to others’ viewpoints first, before inviting others to listen to us. Others are more likely to be receptive to listening to us after we have listened to and respected them.
We tend to focus on the content and rational side when communicating with others. However, building connections is just as important. Though logical arguments and strong statements backed up by hard facts and numbers can be necessary in resolving differences of opinions in organizational settings, these behaviors sometimes create distance between people. Good listening skills focus more on the relationship and feelings side of people and therefore complement our efforts to convince others to our way of thinking, and succeed in our influencing.
When we face a world of diverse employees, who each possess a different personality, being able to touch both their rational and emotional side gives us more flexibility in influencing others in the organization.