You can raise your “influence quotient” with someone in just five seconds.
This may sound unbelievable, but it’s true.
In the past three articles, we have focused on raising your ability to influence others. Although these tips have focused on sending the right “outer signals” – making an emotional connection, using appropriate verbal and non-verbal language, and asking for a favor – it is important to remember that these “outer signals” must come from the right “inner motives”.
In the best of worlds, influence should be used for good – it should be borne out of genuine passion for something you believe will make the world (or at least your world) a better place.
These tips I’ve been sharing are really about being able to marry the “outer to the inner,” to show the other person that you care about them as a human being and that you are willing to be vulnerable and real with them. In reality, many people really care, but they simply don’t know how to show it.
There’s one shift that requires the inner and outer parts of a person to work together, that really brings congruency to your motives and outer behaviors, and that is listening.
There is a big difference between hearing and listening. And it is listening that will cause you to become more influential.
Pauline Oliveros, an American composer, actually devoted her life’s work to deep listening, and coined the term after descending 14 feet into an underground cistern to make a recording. She then designed a like setting to inspire both trained and untrained performers to practice the art of listening and responding to environmental conditions in solo and ensemble situations. What she was after was the deep and empathic understanding that comes of truly connecting at the visceral level.
Oliveros instructed her listeners to “walk so silently until the bottoms of your feet become ears.”
Oliveros went on to form the “Deep Listening Band,” to allow new and experienced musicians to practice this art of deep listening, “integrating principles of improvisation, electronic music, ritual, teaching and meditation” (Wikipedia).
Extrapolating from this, one might say that we should still our personal agenda to truly connect to understand. This is deep listening.
Without listening, we cannot communicate. Listening requires at least two people because there will be an exchange of information, a synthesis of that information, and feedback. True communication is a continuous loop of these processes. How we listen determines the extent to which we can connect to make great things happen.
How does this relate to increasing your influence? Think for a moment.
In the coaching world, we say there are five levels of listening.
Level 1: Ignoring, or Not Listening
The Ignorer does not appear to be listening. They may not hear you or, if willfully ignoring, are sending the message that they do not want to acknowledge you. There is no exchange of information, much less communication. Their personal agenda is clearly something else! This can be very irritating to the speaker because he knows the listener is not paying attention to anything but is merely thinking of what he will say when he gets a chance to talk.
This means the conversation follows the listener’s (or non-listener in this case!) agenda, not the speaker’s agenda. An example might be when you are talking about a business matter, and when you finish your thought, the listener speaks up and asks how you enjoyed the party last weekend.
Level 2: Pretend Listening (Patronizing)
The Patronizing Listener may occasionally nod their head or make a gesture in your direction, but they also show you they are paying attention to other things or allowing distractions to become their focus instead of you. Their personal agenda is to judge whether or not they need to pay attention to your message.
Level 3: Selective Listening
The Selective Listener will indicate they are listening at times, but hearing only part of your message. They will often pay attention to only those parts of your message with which they agree, and may often interrupt you or cut you off to ask, “So what’s your point?” Their personal agenda is to hear your story so they can respond with theirs.
For instance, you might be saying that your son really enjoyed soccer camp this summer and the listener responds by saying that her son went last year, and he didn’t like it much.
Level 4: Attentive Listening
The Attentive Listener wants to hear you, but will use their frame of reference to communicate with you. They will often respond by offering advice. Their personal agenda is to hear you, to apply any information they glean from your message, and to see if it is appropriate to apply within their own frame of reference.
Now we are getting into real listening. In this case you might be saying that you have had some difficulty getting your manager to buy into your ideas about something and the listener asks you to tell her more about it.
Level 5: Empathetic Listening (Mirroring or Active Listening)
The Empathic Listener seeks to listen beyond your words, to put themselves in your shoes to the heart and feelings that lie behind the words. This requires stepping out of their own frame of reference, values, personal story, and tendency to judge. This means that the listener has left their personal agenda and bias behind to seek to understand you. It is at this level that a true empathic exchange occurs, building trust, safe space, and an arena where true change and resolution can occur.
With the first four levels, the listener hears while operating from their own frame of reference. The fifth level of listening requires that the listener leave this personal agenda to truly connect empathically.
Here you might be saying that you’d better not go out for drinks after work, and the listener asks if you are worried about your kids being home alone. He hit the nail on the head, and you admit that you really are worried about that and would rather go right home.
How many people in your life can you identify at each of these levels?
It’s rather easy to think of people who exhibit levels 1-4, but it’s rare to know people who reflect level 5.
Because listening at level 5 means putting one’s own agenda completely aside to become neutral and caring. When we do encounter these people who listen at level 5, we fall in love with them.
Why is that?
It is because we feel heard. We feel understood and acknowledged as a human being.
Developing such a high level of listening takes time, patience, a willing heart, and a whole lot more that is quite another article! But if you are with someone else and you truly want to connect to become more influential in their lives, then this is what you must strive for. Because in the end, even if you seek to influence someone else toward your own agenda, true listening in the process may bring to light something you didn’t realize – and which may turn your own agenda on its head.
How do you increase your influence with someone in just five seconds?
It is with a shift in thinking: putting your own agenda aside for just a brief moment.
I’ve outlined a conversation to follow this shift that will truly acknowledge both you and the other person. The results from such a conversation can be not only rewarding, but relationship-changing for you both. (This outline assumes you’ve proposed your agenda, and you have made the 5-second shift to put this aside, now, to listen to the other person):
- Remain silent while the other person speaks. Tell yourself that whatever you are thinking right now can wait to be said, and really try to hear what they are saying.
- When they pause, you can say something like, “Tell me more,” or “What’s behind that?” And listen. Listen with the soles of your feet – put yourself in this person’s shoes and try to see through his eyes, from his perspective.
- Once the person is done talking, instead of rebutting, or giving advice, mirror back what he has just said as you show you are seeking to understand and acknowledge his point of view. “Here’s what I hear you saying, John…you are really worried about taking this course of action because it may place you in a position of vulnerability with your current project. Is that right?”
- As John acknowledges or edifies what you have just mirrored back, keep listening – go deeper into a mental space that is like Oliveros’ 14-foot cavern. Try not to formulate what you want to say – just listen. Reflect back what you have heard, again.
- Then finally, after you feel you have really listened to John, you can say something like, “John, I really hear what you are saying, and I don’t want to put you in a vulnerable position. Is there a way that we can solve this larger problem we are addressing together? What might that look like?
I challenge you to try this conversation out with a colleague or loved one. If you can do this, and begin to develop the art of deep listening, the results for you will be life-changing.
Patti Cotton helps executives optimize their effectiveness in leading self, others, and the enterprise. Her areas of focus include confidence, leadership style, executive presence, effective communication, succession planning, and masterful execution. With over 25 years of leadership experience, both stateside and abroad, Patti works with individuals, teams, and organizations across industries, providing executive consulting, leadership development, succession planning, change management, and conflict resolution. She is also an experienced Fortune 500 speaker. For more information on how Patti Cotton can help you and your organization, click here.