How often does your ability to influence and inspire action at work fall short of desired expectations? Are you frustrated because you are unable to move forward on key initiatives? In most cases, you are probably having dead conversations. If you wish to influence others and inspire action, you must first engage in active conversation. I recently discussed this important communication tool at a conference, and I pointed out the important distinctions between an active and a dead conversation. Let’s take a look.
Dead conversation: Frequently you may be engaging in conversations that are doomed from the outset. And in many cases, you have no one to blame but yourself. The first culprit is your own ego. You are trying to prove how smart you are, or you are focused on defending your recommendation. In so doing you are not really listening to what the other person has to say, but instead you are waiting to speak by hurrying them along. It sounds something like this, “yeah, yeah, yeah”, “right, right, right”, etc. By not listening attentively, you may be missing essential information necessary to influence and initiate action. The second culprit is lack of self-awareness. While you are reiterating your point of view, you act as if court is in session, and you are the judge and jury. A disengaged attitude coupled with on-going distractions from electronic devices or other interruptions telegraphs a blatant lack of respect for the other person, and their point of view. The third culprit is not asking questions to elicit input and feedback. The conversation is nothing more than you talking at someone, and more than likely you are not even aware of your thwarted effort.
Active conversation: The hallmark of an active conversation is communicating a sense of recognition, support and value to the other person, regardless of your own personal reaction to what they are saying. To achieve this, you have to put your ego aside and be fully present in the conversation. Step away from the computer, put down the smart phone and clear away any distractions. Place your attention solely on the other person, and show a genuine interest in what they have to say and how they feel about a particular topic or issue. Get curious. Follow the thread of their conversation intently. Seek clarity. Ask open-ended questions beginning with “what” or “how.” My favorite way to start an active conversation is to say, “That’s interesting, tell me more.” This will lead to greater insight and creativity. Align yourself with the other person’s perspective; relate to their point of view for the moment. Asking “how” questions conveys a sense of support, and this practice conveys both your interest in the other person and in what he (she) has to say. Acknowledging another person’s perspective makes them feel valued, and when you recognize, value and support others, you will have a greater chance to influence and inspire action.
All too often the vast majority of business people are most comfortable with telling and selling. We are more inclined to push through our own agenda at the expense of encouraging others to join along. This ill-advised approach often reaps limited or short-term results or, in many cases, none at all if the other person(s) digs in their heels. Genuine success will be measured in your ability to engage in active conversations that inspire others to action.
Give it a try. Change the conversation. And in case you are wondering, this approach also works at home.