Having impact and influence is not about being aggressive, domineering, bossy or intrusive. In fact, the very opposite. If you want people to notice you, engage with you, interact with you and remember you for all the right reasons you have to be attractive. Now that does not mean physically beautiful (although some research suggests it’s useful) but that you attract people towards you. Think magnets and magnetism – pulling towards you. So people need to want to stick around you and engage with you not because you are saying wise things and are bursting with extrovert energy and enthusiasm – you might be entertaining for a time but that’s all there is and people will not want to rely on a sustained relationship where thoughts, ideas and feelings are exchanged with you.
Therein is the first secret of influence. You need to use more pull than push behaviours. A pull behaviour is designed to bring information to you rather information being broadcast from you. The most obvious pull behaviour is seeking information by asking a question but there are others. Seeking proposals from someone means saying something like “What would you suggest?” rather than telling them by saying “This is what we should do”.
This is not about a magical gift like charisma (of Greek origin - literally a gift from the gods) or your aura. It is though, about how you appear to others and how you interact with them. Likeability seems to be important and again most studies of likeability suggest it’s because you show interest in other people not that you exude charm (another word from the world of gods and magic) or your voice and presence is filling the room.
Presence – this is strangely simple too. You need to be present…or, more specifically, you need to be present. People need to feel you are there with them, engaging and interacting, questioning and listening, being curious, responding and reacting. If it feels like you’re there but actually not in conversation just waiting for your chance to speak or to move on and find someone more interesting that does nothing for your presence score.
To have sustainable impact and influence people need to trust you. Trust is the sum of credibility + reliability + intimacy. Your words make sense, your actions match your words and you are a real person who shows genuine personal interest. The denominator, the thing that divides and thus reduces trust is self-interest. If it seems like you’re only doing this for your benefit people will not trust you and your words, your actions and your smile will all seem false. Politicians take note…
Rule 5 - Seek first to understand then be understood
Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People includes a gem for people who want to have impact and influence and we always teach this on our programmes about leadership, interpersonal relations, negotiating, influencing, questioning and listening.
With this in mind we suggest the following:
Ten Things You Can Do to Quickly and Deeply Understand People
1.To understand people means being able to form a coherent picture of the person, their situation, their interests, their values and their drivers. To do this quickly, skilfully and elegantly means using structured questions and collating the answers in a mental model that gives you a rich picture to examine and review.
2. Start with some basic questions. Who, What, Where, When, How questions provide you with data that most people do not find too difficult to share. “Where do you work?” “What’s your name?” are usually non-intrusive and tell you about the person and situation. Do not ask “Why” at this stage...
3. Take something that seems of interest to them and ask non-factual questions which disclose more about them – not just the basic facts and data. Likes, dislikes, opinions, thoughts and feelings are all in this category. “So what do you like about that type of work?” is an example.
4. Ask questions which are about the future, these give you information about their thinking, aspirations and hopes. Such questions as “So how do you see that working out?” “Where do you see yourself in three years’ time?” “What’s next for you?” give you much more than just facts and data.
5. Use the “sounds like” construction in phrases like “...sounds like that was a problem” or “...sounds like you enjoy doing that” to confirm your pictures when they are describing non-factual information. This helps you to confirm you’ve heard it right and also opens up other avenues for discussion or questions
6. To understand someone’s personal values and what motivates them you need specific permission to explore that area. Pause and preface your question with “Can I ask?” before asking “Why is that important to you?” – This “Why” question is very thought provoking and they may need time to think before answering.
7. Review your pictures for places where things don’t add up. 2+2=5 means either you haven’t asked a question or haven’t understood an element in the other person’s answer. Ask a question which fills the gap – “I haven’t quite got this – is it you or your boss that organises the meetings?”
8. Listen for “pings” - like the cartoon light bulb that goes on over someone’s head in a comic when they have an idea. “Pings” happen when people say things like “...if it turns out like I hope” or “...with a bit of luck” – this is a cue to ask more.
9. Working to understand people means asking questions for clarification. This is easy unless their answers conflict with how you see the world, your views or your version of the truth. Notice when you are straying from your primary task of understanding them and briefly summarise to get back on track.
10. Summarise frequently to make sure you stay tuned in, to show you’re listening and to build your pictures. If you picture well you do not need to take notes – your capacity for picturing and mentally viewing those pictures means you can stay engaged and attentive not looking at your writing.