Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Influence (4 of 10)

<< Back to day 3

Here's day 4 of my notes on "Becoming a Person of Influence: How to Positively Impact the Lives of Others" by John C. Maxwell and Jim Dornan.

Chapter 4 - A Person of Influence... Listens to People

3M: "The number one resource for new ideas is customer complaints."

Listening is one of those no-brainers, once someone points it out. Credit is due to the authors for refraining from the "two ears, one mouth" thing that everyone says all the time. Even active listening is only mentioned somewhat in passing, but that's because there's probably more to it. Also a brief nod to Mars/Venus with the reminder of the typical male/female conversation objectives.

As much as I know the truth in listening and being attentive, there's more to that. The idea that most people speak at 180 words per minute and we can process up to 300-500 words per minute was a surprise to me. It does make sense, though - both from the idea of why people get distracted or why they seek out distraction while talking. This is one thing that I've noticed of my boss' boss' boss - as busy as he is, if you can get (and stay) on his calendar, if you get an hour of his time, he gives you an hour of his time. It will be rare for his assistant to interrupt, his phone will not ring, he won't look at his iPhone or his computer, he won't look at notes - you have his full and undivided attention.

There's a lot of practical advice in this chapter, so much so that it becomes difficult to summarize without just recreating the entire chapter here, but I'll try.

First, the idea that there's a lot of value in good listening - you communicate respect, you strengthen bonds, you increase your own knowledge, new ideas sprout, you build loyalty, and while it isn't specifically stated, you really really fulfill a need in someone else - everyone wants to be heard. When you give them your full attention, you are building them up.

On the flip side, there are some barriers: your own desire to talk, your inability to stay focused, experiencing mental fatigue (it takes a lot of work to really, really listen - if 20% of your body's energy goes to powering your brain, really good listening is exercise!) and stereotyping -- prejudging what someone is telling you, or anticipating certain things and so giving them more weight if they do validate what you expected. Also dangerous is your own emotional baggage or being too occupied with yourself - waiting anxiously for the pause in conversation so you can get your opinion in or your witty remark or what-have-you.

The tactics are mostly straightforward for listening - and there are probably plenty of opportunities to really practice these techniques:

  • looking at the speaker (giving them your attention, not doing other stuff at the same time - so you can pick up on their body language and they can also pick up on yours)
  • not interrupting (wait for them to engage you and solicit a response, or at the very least, allow pauses in the conversation for reflection), try to determine the need - the Mars/Venus thing - are they looking for an answer, or are they venting, or are they just talking through a problem.
  • check your emotions - you are the receiver in this exchange, this isn't about you.
  • suspend your judgment - like they say in stocks, you can't predict the future by looking at history. You can make some assumptions, but you know what they say about assumptions.
  • sum up occasionally - the active listening point - this helps them to know you're listening. Rephrasing may also help them to see their own message in a new light, either opening up an opportunity for them to ask you about your interpretation or help them see that what they're saying might not be the same as what they're saying. (Back to COMA123 at PLU - 1+1=3. What you said, what I heard, the part of the interchange that is common to both of us.)
  • ask questions for clarity - this is the one I probably struggle with a lot - asking good questions. It's a good way to keep the conversation going, it's a way to help shape the conversation, and it's even a way to help them know whether or not they're getting their point across, or if their point makes sense.
  • lastly, make listening a priority - we have a lot going on, but when you stop and truly listen, a lot happens.

This was a good chapter. Ironically, you might be quick to say "Yeah, yeah, listening, right, got it. I know this one." and want to move on, but when you give into the finer points, it does make you think. This listening stuff can be hard. Again, a point of being intentional about it. I know that when I would seek out opportunities to talk to people, instead of just waiting for them to come to me, I would learn all kinds of new things I hadn't known, and people would confide in me all kinds of stuff that I wouldn't otherwise be privy to. In some ways, I think this chapter again validates stuff I've already discovered while simultaneously reminding me that I don't make enough of an effort to go and seek our opportunities to listen.

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