You have the ability to raise your “influence quotient” with someone in just five seconds. This may sound unbelievable – but it’s true.
Although many tips focus on sending the right “outer” signals – making an emotional connection, using appropriate verbal and non-verbal language, or asking for a favor – they must be married to 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. In other words, strategies to influence others that you read about should really stem from the right motive, caring about the other person as a human being, and wanting the best for everyone.
There’s one shift requiring the inner and outer person to work together, which really brings congruency to your motives and outer behaviors: listening. Deep listening.
There’s a big difference between hearing and listening. Listening is what 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. This setting was designed to inspire both trained and untrained performers to practice the art of listening and responding to environmental conditions in solo and ensemble situations.
Pauline went on to form the “Deep Listening Band,” to allow new and experienced musicians to practice the art of listening, “integrating principles of improvisation, electronic music, ritual, teaching and meditation.” (Wikipedia)
Pauline once instructed her listeners to “walk so silently until the bottoms of your feet become ears.” Extrapolating from this, one might say that we should still our personal agenda to truly listen – and this is defined as deep listening.
How does this relate to increasing your influence?
Think for a moment. In the coaching world, we say there are really five levels of listening. Here they are, as outlined by Lynn Banis, Ph.D.:
1. Level one is listening for our turn to speak. This can be very irritating to the speaker, because they can sense the listener is only focused on when they’ll get a chance to talk. This means that the conversation follows the listener’s agenda, not the speaker’s. An example might be when you’re talking about a business matter, and when you finish your thought, the listener speaks up and asks how you enjoyed the party last weekend.
2. Level two is when the listener doesn’t really engage in the conversation, however, when it’s their turn to speak, they give an example of their own experience. For instance, you might be saying that your son really enjoyed soccer camp this summer, and the listener responds by saying their son attended last year and didn’t like it much.
3. Level three listening occurs when the listener gives advice without determining if the speaker wants to hear it. An example of this would be if you’re explaining how you’re having a hard time with your teenager, and the listener begins to tell you how to handle the situation.
4. Level four listening takes place when the listener asks for more information; now we’re getting into real listening. In this case, you might be saying that you’ve had some difficulty getting your manager to buy into your ideas about something, and the listener asks you to tell them more about it.
5. Level five listening is where the listener employs their intuition and more or less reads between the lines to discover the real issue beneath the words. Here you could be saying that you’d better not go out for drinks after work, and the listener asks if you’re worried about your kids being home alone. They hit the nail on the head, and you admit that you really are worried about exactly that and would rather go directly home.
How many people in your life can you identify at these listening levels? It’s rather easy to think of people who exhibit levels one through four, but people who reflect level five are rare. Why? Because listening at level five means putting one’s own agenda completely aside to become neutral and caring. When we do encounter people who listen at level five, we fall in love with them. Why is that? Because we feel heard; we feel understood; we feel acknowledged as a human being.
Developing such a high level of listening takes time, patience, and a willing heart (and a whole lot more – which is quite another article!). But if you’re with someone and you truly want to connect and become more influential in their lives, this is what you must strive for. In the end, even if you attempt to influence and direct someone toward your own agenda, the true listening process may bring to light something you didn’t realize – and which may turn your own agenda on its head.
So, how do you increase your influence with someone in just five seconds? Through a shift in thinking and 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’ve made the five-second shift to put this aside now in order to listen to the other person.)
1. Remain silent while the other person speaks, and tell yourself that whatever you’re thinking at the moment can wait to be verbalized. Try to really hear what the other person is saying.
2. When they pause, say something like, “Tell me more,” or “What’s behind that?” and then listen. Listen with the soles of your feet. Put yourself in that person’s shoes and try to see through their eyes, from their perspective.
3. Once the person is done talking, instead of rebutting or giving advice, mirror back what they’ve said to show you’re seeking to understand and acknowledge their point of view. “Here’s what I hear you saying, John… you’re 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?”
4. As John acknowledges or edifies what you’ve just mirrored back, keep listening. Go deeper into a mental space, like Pauline Oliveros’ 14-foot deep cavern. Try not to formulate what you want to say – just listen. Reflect back what you’ve heard once again.
5. Then, finally, after you feel you’ve really listened to John, say something like, “John, I really hear what you’re saying, and I don’t want to put you in a vulnerable position. Is there a way we can solve this larger problem we’re addressing together? What might that look like?”
I challenge you to experiment with this type of conversation with a colleague or loved one. If you can do this and begin to develop the art of deep listening, the results will be life changing!
Patti Cotton works with high-potential executives and professionals to engage, elevate, and equip them for greater leadership and outcomes. She has over 25 years of leadership experience both stateside and abroad, in diplomatic relations and corporate profit and not-for-profit worlds. She is an internationally-certified coach, leveraging her experience and training to help executives around the world master their inner leader with extraordinary results.