Listening Your Way to Success

May 31, 2016

How often do you struggle to get people to buy what you’re selling?

I’m not suggesting you are a sales person, per se. However, all of us are selling something whether it’s seeking the boss’s permission to proceed on a project, persuading a co-worker to do something in a particular way, convincing your spouse to vacation in a certain location, or cajoling the kids to do their homework and clean their rooms.

This form of persuasion takes place in each of our lives every single day, and some of us are more successful at it than others.

In this age of message bombardment, it’s important to recognize that people selectively tune out the noise in order to hear what’s important to them. Because they are inundated with both wanted and unwanted to information, they fortify themselves to listen selectively.

So given this resistance, how do you get your message across?

In Mark Goulston’s book, Just Listen: Discover the Secret to Getting Through to Absolutely Anyone, he explains the importance of successful communication through the Persuasion Cycle, illustrated above. Goulston says all persuasion moves through the steps of this cycle and therefore it’s important to to speak to people in a manner that moves them from:

  • Resisting to Listening
  • Listening to Considering
  • Considering to Willing to Do
  • Willing to Do to Doing
  • Doing to Glad They Did and Continue Doing

The secret to getting through to anyone is by having them buy in. This occurs only when you are able to get people to stop “resisting” to “listening” to “considering” what you are saying.

“Ironically, the key to gaining ‘buy-in’ and then moving people through the rest of the cycle is not what you tell them, but what you get them to tell you—and what happens in their minds in the process,” says Goulston.

As the title to his book implies, listening is a huge part of successfully persuading others. And effective listening requires seeking to understand before being understood as Stephen R. Covey described in his seminal book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

It also requires hearing what is unspoken yet conveyed through tone of voice, eye contact and other body language. This requires you to be curious, and using all of your senses to truly tune into the other person.

Getting people to reveal their resistance involves not only listening, but asking the right questions. No matter how many facts and details you share about your perspective, until you ask the right questions to uncover resistance you will fall on deaf ears. And learning to ask good questions is perhaps the most important leadership tool you can master.

You can also help persuade others by exercising your empathy muscle to make the other person feel heard. The gift of being heard is all too rare and goes a long way towards successfully connecting with other people. When they feel heard, they are much more willing to open up and reveal what’s most important to them.

Though most of us will say we are good listeners, the reality is we are not. If we are truly honest with ourselves, we will admit that instead of actively listening, we are distracted or thinking about what to say next. This is counterproductive to moving through the Persuasion Cycle.

If you really want to enhance your ability to persuade others to buy what you’re selling, follow the steps in the Persuasion Cycle and improve your ability to truly listen.

Listening Into Others to Gain Influence

January 30, 2013

No matter what line of work you are in, you are likely seeking ways to be more productive and successful. And, regardless of the profession, how effective you interact with and influence other people can greatly determine your fate.

That’s because it is all about relationship, and relationships should always be about the long term.

We now live in a world that no longer tolerates disconnected forms of influence. Spam filters help block emails that are unrelated to our wants and needs. The stereotypical used car salesman is seen as merely comical and not taken seriously by anyone. Shotgun approaches to marketing are considered a waste of money.

Social networking, among other things, seeks ways to connect people and then influence them based on their connectedness. This connectedness means having your virtual friends’ influence what you do, where and when you do it, and especially how you spend your money.

Whether this is good or bad is not my concern. What I am interested in is how important this connectedness is with regard to our ability to influence others.

In a new book titled, “Real Influence: Persuade Without Pushing and Gain Without Giving In,” authors Mark Goulston and John Ullmen discuss how, in this post-pushing and post-selling world, influence should no longer be seen as something you do to someone else to get what you want.

Real influence isn’t even about what you want. Instead it’s about forging strong connections by focusing on other people’s viewpoints and giving something away before asking for anything in return. And always seeking win-win outcomes.

This seems to be a new paradigm that’s sustainable and good for everyone.

Goulston and Ullmen offer many tactics to learn how to do this, but the one I think most important—regardless of whether you’re trying to influence someone or not—is by improving your ability to listen to others. Easier said than done.

According to the authors, there are four levels of listening:

  1. Avoidance Listening – Listening Over
    This type of listening is when you may be nodding or even saying “Uh huh,” but you’re not really paying attention. Your mind is elsewhere and the other person is feeling ignored despite your best efforts at appearing to be listening.
  2. Defensive Listening – Listening At
    When you listen defensively you are taking things personally and are too quick to react. You listen at others by taking issue with everything they say without taking the time to consider what is being said.
  3. Problem Solving Listening – Listening To
    Listening in this way is about getting something accomplished, which is a perfectly valid way to listen when the situation demands it. However, when the subject is especially complex or emotionally charged, this can leave far too much room for misunderstanding. You are separating the subject from the speaker and losing that perspective, which is so important to consider.
  4. Connective Listening – Listening Into
    This is the type of listening all speakers crave. It is about listening with the intention to fully understand the speaker and also strengthen the connection. Connective listening is listening from their there instead of your here. It means listening without an agenda focused entirely on responding or helping.

I can think of many examples when I engage in the first three levels of listening. The first two I am not proud of and still struggle to avoid. Problem solving listening I do perhaps most often because I am so anxious to be productive and get something done.

But I know that when I listen in a connective manner is when I truly understand what is being said. I am giving my full attention and listening not only with my ears, but with my eyes, my heart and my body. I am also strengthening the relationship because I can feel the connection being forged.

To gain influence requires a continual focus on the long term, on the relationship, and on giving away something first. More often than not, this begins with your ability to engage in connective listening so you can truly understand their perspective and needs.

Influence should no longer begin with a self-centered perspective focusing only on the immediate opportunity. Instead, look at gaining influence in a positive and authentic manner that strengthens your connections with others for the long term.

10 Tips to Improve Workplace Communication

December 30, 2011

In the spirit of year-end top ten lists, here are my top ten tips to improve communication in the workplace—for this and every year. Better communication is important because it can provide more engaged employees, higher workplace morale, and greater efficiency and productivity.

As I wrote in a previous post on how to improve listening, communication skills include reading, writing, speaking and listening. All of these skills are important in most workplaces and each of them should be considered.

My top ten tips to improve workplace communication are as follows.

1.  Clear & Direct. Be certain the information you need to convey—whether it is spoken or written—is clear and directly communicated. Use language that is specific and unambiguous. Check that the receiver understands the message as you intended. Avoid acronyms when there’s a chance they will be unclear.

2.  Actively Listen. Becoming an active listener means you make a conscious effort to truly hear what the other person is saying—in their words as well as their body language. Practice holding off thinking about how to respond or interrupting until you have thoroughly heard what they are saying. It should come as no surprise that the best communicators are also the best listeners.  

3.  Paraphrase. The goal of paraphrasing is to ensure you are clear about what has been said and let the speaker know that you care about what he or she is communicating. Both are equally important in effective communication. Use a variation on “What I hear you saying is . . .” to accomplish this.

4.  Face-to-Face. Whenever you have difficult information to convey or sometihing that could result in many questions, choose to have a direct face-to-face conversation. You will also have the huge benefit of non-verbal communication cues including tone of voice, facial expressions and other body language.

5.  Be Respectful. This means using the other person’s name, looking them in the eye, and nodding to aid in demonstrating you understand what they are saying. If you are communicating in writing, reread before sending your message to ensure that it could not be misinterpreted or taken as disrespectful. When on the phone, don’t multitask even if you think the person on the other end of the line does not know that you are.

6.  Message & Medium. Some of us are better communicating in writing and some are better at speaking. Some of us are better reading information and some at listening to information. In most cases, it depends on the message being delivered and received. When you need to deliver a message, consider whether it should be spoken or written depending on the content as well as the preference of your receiver.

7.  Tailor Conversation to Audience. Communicating with your boss, co-worker, customer or supplier may require a slightly different style. With your boss, be careful to pick the right time, and ask for what you need and what you expect they can reasonably deliver. For a co-worker, be direct, transparent, and open-minded. And if a customer or supplier calls with a problem, listen carefully, apologize if necessary even if it wasn’t your fault, and offer a solution.

8.  Effective Texting. More and more of our workplace communication is done via email, voice mail and text messaging. There are advantages and disadvantages to each of these, depending on the message and the audience. Texting can be especially effective when a quick question or answer is required without further explanation or repeated follow up, e.g., “What time is the budget meeting?” But don’t text when it cannot effectively communicate your message.

9.  Make the Most of Meetings. Way too many of us spend time in meetings that are unproductive and often unnecessary. Demand that those calling a meeting provide an agenda, hold to the appointed start and end time, and have only the right people in attendance. Ensure that the work done in the meeting warrants the time and resources taken away from those working independently.

10. Stay Positive. Regardless of the conversation, try to keep it positive. Even the harshest feedback can and should be delivered in a positive, supportive, team-centric manner. Stay focused on behavior or performance and not character. When you are on the receiving end, avoid getting triggered by difficult messages. Keep in mind the bigger picture and the long term implications.

These ten tips for improving workplace communication can be implemented and perfected by anyone. Take an honest look at your own communication skills then choose one of the above to improve upon. 

The work you put into improving your communication skills will pay dividends both at work and at home.