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The First Rule of Influence – Ask More Explain Less

How often do we hear statements like “I do not know what it takes to convince him, I have tried everything”? Perhaps we may also ask ourselves: “I wish I knew how I can explain it so that he can understand!”
Whenever I hear these statements during a coaching session, I enquire back: “so did you ask him? do you understand his concerns?”
This usually brings about blank stares...

It is not uncommon for each of us to get so focused on explaining our point of view that we forget to keep our mind open; we fail to explore how things look like from the perspective of the other person; we shut down our curiosity.

Possibly a defensive reaction, when we do not get the response that we expect, we may just feel that we have done a bad job of explaining, so we explain more; we add more facts; we may even solicit a different opinion with the sole purpose of demolishing the other person's arguments.

What we often forget to do is to simply and genuinely ask and listen; really listen, assuming best intentions, not feeding our biases; really listen, trying to understand, not to demolish; really listen, with focus on the other person, not on our judgment; really listen, actively rather than passively, i.e. by asking powerful open questions.

It is a sad fact that our western education is predominantly focused only on one side of communication; we are taught how to write, read, speak, present and sell; we are not taught how to listen.

And yet, when we get the chance to attend a course of leadership or coaching and we learn how to really listen, how to self-manage, how to focus on the other person and try to really understand, we find out that by actively listening and enquiring, we are at least ten times more likely to influence.

Take a very critical example, unfortunately very common nowadays; you need to announce a reorganization that will create some redundancy and you wish to appeal to the integrity of the entire team to do their best as long as each of them is around. Are you more likely to influence by holding a lengthy explanation of reasons and duties? Or by keeping it short, letting people vent and share? And in so doing also learn more about their real concerns and be better able to address them? Experience shows that when people feel heard and validated, they are more likely to resume collaborative optimism.

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