Influence through listening skills – hurry up and wait!

Expert AdviceKey to our success as communicators and sales people is our ability to be able to influence. For recruiters, influence is a highly sought competency so getting it right is great personal investment. The biggest barrier most recruiters have to exerting influence is them self, rather than the other person. All too often people jump in and start attempting to influence someone without understanding the other person’s position. There is a distinct difference between hearing and understanding. If you have been taught “active listening” it may be that the person you are talking to thinks you understand but you don’t have a clue. Nodding and smiling and repeating things back shows you have heard. It does not prove you understand.

So, what’s the golden rule with influencing through listening? Seek to understand then be understood, i.e. to interact effectively with me you first need to understand me. Unless you can get me to open up to you, unless you understand my unique situation and feelings, you won’t know how to advise or counsel me and therefore will fail to influence me effectively.

“Seek first to understand” requires a shift in paradigm. Most people listen with the intent to reply not to understand. They’re either speaking (in their head quite often) or are preparing to speak. I see this all the time when I am coaching consultants at their desks. They have internal dialogue along the lines of:

“What’s my next question?”

“Will they want to meet me?”

“What does that mean?!?”

I also see it a lot when I conduct presentation skills workshops. No wonder some people get a bit anxious when they are going to speak in public as they scare themselves to death with their internal dialogue:

“Don’t trip up on the way to the front”

“Make sure they can’t see how nervous you are!”

“Don’t mess it up! Don’t mess it up!”

Gibbering on to yourself is not going to help you listen. How can you focus on two conversations at once? This is what Buddhist monks refer to as the chattering monkey and is something acolytes have to get to grips with early on in meditation lessons.

[A great little tip I use is to press the tip of your tongue gently into the back of your front teeth – this prevents it from moving and in turn prevents internal dialogue. Just for fun, count to ten in your head. Do it again, this time holding the tip of your tongue – you’ll notice you are now lisping in your own head!! The tongue makes micro movements even when you speak in your head.]

Once you are listening, empathy becomes the key to seeking understanding. Empathetic listening is all about getting inside someone else’s frame of reference. You look at the world with their eyes (Hence the phrase – see it from my perspective). Once you can regularly achieve that you are in a much stronger position to understand.

Once you understand you can then begin to make your self understood and exert influence. This is how a recruitment consultant can (should? would? could?) work more effectively. Seek to understand (diagnose) then and only then make your self understood (prescribe). This medical analogy is one I regularly use during “Advanced Sales for Recruiters” training on– Would you trust a prescription from your doctor if you did not feel they had diagnosed effectively?

Next time you talk to a client, candidate or colleague (or any other person) and you feel you may need to influence them to do something; Take the time to let them feel as though you understand them. Then, and only then, make yourself understood.

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