What is influencing? What does it mean to you? How do you measure whether you’ve influenced someone?
Influencing is often thought of as the ability to win others to your way of thinking, to get people to like you, to be persuasive, to be able to change people’s minds without resentment. This is often what leaders want with their teams – to win them over to move in the direction they ought to go. However, this approach may lead to sub-optimal decisions and outcomes.
It is only when you understand how others think, value their perspectives, and integrate these into your own, that more optimal outcomes can be achieved. This positive approach to influence is a philosophy of achieving results without coercion or manipulation.
It happens when you truly seek to know and understand other people—to connect with them by listening carefullyand asking open-ended questions. When you focus on helping others discover their own truth, not yours, and use that information to work towards win/win outcomes.
“Everyone whose professional or personal lives depend on knowing and understanding the thoughts, dreams, and needs of others must be able to listen” says author Matthew Westra.
The skill of active listening ensures mutual understanding where many times leaders may be hearing but not understanding. The skill of open-ended questions helps leaders shift FROM telling people what to think and do, TO exploring a team member’s thoughts in greater depth or getting them to provide more information to foster deeper understanding – both for the listener and the speaker.
Leaders do not know the challenges, fears, beliefs and obstacles that team members face in getting on board with changes, testing out new skills, interacting with difficult colleagues, or working towards a project goal. Active listening and open-ended questions help them gain this insight. Most importantly, it helps team members gain a better understanding of themselves.
“True wisdom comes to each of us when we realize how little we understand about life, ourselves, and the world around us.” Socrates
The two skills of listening and questioning are foundational to learning to lead with influence, ultimately, to Lead with a COACH Approach – a leadership style that is successful at building strong relationships, improving results, and developing future leaders.
Being a good listener is a key step to increasing your influence. When communicating with team members, it is not only important to hear what they are saying, but also to understand what they mean. This requires listening, clarifying their intention, and responding in an active way.
When listening to ensure understanding, leaders need to ask open-ended questions that require more than a one-word answer. These questions usually begin with what, how, describe, explain, and tell me. They provide space for team members to think and respond without suggestion by the leader’s agenda.
If you want to improve your ability to influence others, spend time assessing and developing your listening and questioning skills.