Using What Others Bring To The Situation
Influencing is commonly thought to centre on “my agenda and getting what I want”. However, the whole picture suggests that just using this approach, even if done skilfully and competently, can often leave others feeling unimportant, undervalued and unwilling to compromise.
These three key behaviours:
- Active listening
- Discovering with questions
are all designed to help you focus on the other person’s agenda, what is important or critical to them and to help you build relationships. The purpose of all 3 is to make the other person feel valued and to generate trust and rapport, which will pave the way for a mutually beneficial influencing relationship.
What is key to the success in using supportive behaviours is that you genuinely believe that the other person has value – even if you don’t agree with their views. It never works to just “bolt on” these behaviours in order to give the impression you are other-focused. Genuineness is key and a lack of it will “leak out” eventually.
Another success factor is the ability to “park” your own agenda temporarily. As with a lack of genuineness, any lurking signs of your own agenda when using these behaviours can have quite a negative impact.
What it is
Many of us think we are good at listening. We have been trained to nod in the right places and to grunt periodically to show that we are listening. How many of us though would admit that we really have our own agenda and are just waiting for a moment or pause when we can inject our own pearl of wisdom! This makes us feel good and acceptable. We seem to need to reassure ourselves that we still have something to say.
Another weakness with traditional listening is that we may well have been trained to listen against an agenda of questions, looking for key words that help us lead the speaker along our chosen path towards our chosen goal. This is very common in sales situations.
Active listening is about suspending your own agenda and focusing on the other person to understand their position and to demonstrate that you are doing so. It is about building trust.
Good listeners give full attention to the speaker, noticing things about them – the way they talk, their mannerisms, their energy.
The Important Components For Good Listening:
Give your full attention to the speaker and use appropriate acknowledging body language (head movements and hands, posture).
Reflect key words, phrases and themes back to the speaker using their own words where possible. This shows that you have picked up important themes and encourages the speaker to continue. For example:
“So what you’re saying is ……”
Reflect any emotion that appears to be coming through such as joy, pride, frustration and disappointment. For example:
“You sound disappointed by that ……” “From what you say, it was a moment of great happiness for you ……”
Summarise your understanding periodically. This keeps you on track, avoids any misunderstandings and encourages the speaker to carry on. Be careful not to do this too often or to leave it too long between summaries. For example:
“Can I check my understanding here ……?” “From what you have said, you ……” “Allow me to summarise for a moment. It will help me understand ……”
If you sense there is permission and the climate is right, you can interpret what the speaker has said helping them clarify their thinking. For example:
“Based on what you have said, it sounds as if you did the right thing ……”
This is not your view, but merely a plausible conclusion/interpretation of the facts.
Discovering With Questions
What It Is
This behaviour is about deepening your understanding of another person’s position through allowing and encouraging another person to open up and reveal more information and emotion.
Contrary to some ‘process training’, this is not about having a list of questions to tick off once they have been asked so that you can get the facts in order to impose a view, contradict or sell a product. Nor is it the same type of questioning as interviewing against competence criteria.
Discovering is about following a specific area of interest that has been revealed by the speaker as far as they give permission. It is about making them feel at ease to the point where they feel liberated sufficiently to talk and help you discover more. This behaviour builds bridges and earns the right to offer opinions, but first I will seek to understand you.
Some Guidelines To Follow:
Notice areas of interest for the speaker and acknowledge these. “You seem to be excited about that. Tell me more about it ……”
Use non-threatening questions such as:
“Tell me about”, “What happened?”, “When did?”, “Is there anything else you want to say about ……?”, “Which is more important to you ……?”
Avoid using the “Why?” question as it can be experienced as judgmental and threatening. For example:
“Why … on earth did you do that?”
Do not jump around from issue to issue, but note things that you sense could be important to pursue and enter them into the conversation as appropriate. For example:
“Earlier you mentioned that it had been a difficult decision for you and your team. Is there anything you would want to add about that to help me understand it better?”
Avoid quick fire questions one after the other that could be experienced as an interrogation. Match your pace as explorer/discoverer with that of the speaker.
Try to resist jumping to conclusions and solving problems immediately. The motive for discovering is simply that – to discover and not to input. If you disagree with something or have a view, wait for the appropriate moment, ie when the climate is receptive, to input your thoughts. For example:
“I have appreciated your explanation and I think I understand better where you are coming from now. Allow me to summarise my understanding …… I’m not sure I agree fully with your view and would like to suggest a different approach.”
Discovering should be an enjoyable experience for both parties. It should feel releasing!
Watch out for your views leaking out through your questions!
What It Is
Confident and competent influencers are open to influence themselves, recognising that they don’t have to defeat to win. They are secure in their identity and self-esteem which means that they are happy to pursue understanding others in order to build bridges over which influence can travel.
One way of doing this is through affirming. This follows on naturally from active listening and discovering and is about building positively on others’ views and suggestions. It is about acknowledging your value and giving you significance, sincerely, through praise, positive feedback, encouragement and support.
Most of us would acknowledge that we are motivated to respond when we are given credit, often for little things as well as big things.
Effective affirming behaviour is also about offering constructive critique and challenge as appropriate. For example:
“Your suggestion is a good one. I am especially interested in …… On the surface I can see that we could build on that. One thing you might want to bear in mind is the implications of……”
This behaviour is also about me offering you opportunities to add value and inviting your contribution. For example:
“Your earlier suggestions were very helpful. I sense you may have something else to add here. Perhaps you could share with us your insight on ……”
It may be just as simple as thanking someone for their input or contribution.