If your life was a silent film, could the people in the audience discern your influence?
We leaders have become a communicative group. I just Googled “leadership,” and got 861 million hits. We’ve written books on leadership, blogs on leadership, articles on leadership, and white papers on leadership. We’ve talked about leadership in podcasts, radio interviews, TED talks, TEDx talks, and on TV.
We diligently craft messages about leadership for every social media channel under the sun.
It’s good for us to do these things. We have knowledge and insights to share that make people’s lives better. I’m proud to be a member of and in service to this community.
It’s also good for us to remember that the most powerful way to increase our own influence as leaders is through not talking.
You increase your influence through listening.
The people who are most influential among the people they lead spend 80% of their time listening. This means that for every one-hour conversation you have, you spend 48 minutes not talking.
It’s easy to “commit” to being a better listener without making much progress. It’s more effective to commit to a specific way of listening. Here are two ways you can keep that commitment and more easily reach your goal of listening 80% of the time in every conversation you have:
1. Use Questions Effectively
First, use open-ended questions that have many possible answers. “How did that work out?” “How did you feel when that happened?” Use closed-ended questions to get a precise answer, and then follow up with more open-ended questions.
Second, avoid “Why?” questions. They tend to make people defensive. If the person is describing something from the past, ask them what happened. If they’re suggesting an action, ask what they think will happen. Either way, you usually get the same kind of explanation that a “Why?” question would generate, but without the negative emotional response.
2. Use Silence Effectively
Silence is the source of acknowledgment, the presence of appreciation, and the genesis of connecting one with other human beings.
After you ask a question, wait for silence before forming your next question or comment. Attune to what is being communicated to you. Don’t even think about what you should say next until you have first listened to what is being said and processed what you should say next during silence.
Allowing everyone to think during silence promotes discovery more than just jumping in with whatever question or comment comes to mind. If you wait and concentrate on what you’ve heard, you’re more likely to say something relevant and helpful. Getting comfortable with silence and using it properly will help you build relationships, trust, and influence.
Most Americans get uncomfortable when silence stretches on for more than a few seconds. Your conversation partner may be one of those people who need to jump right in and fill the silence. Allow it. Or, he or she may be much more comfortable with long silence than you are. You should practice being silent for long stretches to handle those situations.
Commit to spending less time drawing out your own insights and more time drawing out and exploring the insights of others.
Strive to be more interested than interesting.
Increase your influence by saying less. After all, people are paying far more attention to what you do.
By Mark Deterding