A Simple Question That Can Increase Influence – Allegory Inc.

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A Simple Question That Can Increase Influence

By Christina Harbridge
hand raised

One Question (photo by Evan Dennis)

Ever been on a phone call, in a conversation or in a meeting and realized the conversation is unclear, not working or rambling?

Humans often go into conversations thinking about what they want to SAY rather than first thinking about what the listener is wanting to HEAR. Communication is a two-way street, yet I’m not sure we always treat it that way. Communication requires the other person is listening, thus if they aren’t listening it really doesn’t matter what you are saying.

One simple, deliberate practice can increase influence. Ask an orienting question:

“What do you want to make sure happens in this (phone call) (meeting) (1:1), what matters most to you?”

Here are a few examples how this context-setting question can work in conversation.

Example #1: A Typical Sales Call

“Hi Joe, we scheduled this call to discuss outsourcing of talent education. What do you want to make sure happens in this phone call?”

Think of all the responses a person could get to that question. Think of how differently a salesperson would respond to the following orientations:

  • Can you run a retreat next Monday?
  • We are currently using ABC training, what is different about you guys?
  • We have never outsourced before and I’m not convinced it is the right thing to do?
  • We have a small budget, what are your fees?
  • I have no idea who you are or what you do…

Each of the responses above shift what the influencer should say. If the influencer doesn’t know, they are using luck rather than a rational practice of, um, finding out first. People are most influenced when the conversation is focused on what they care about. Rather than talk about all the benefits, find out what they want to hear about first.

Example #2: Employee One-On-One Meeting

At the weekly 1:1 a manager asks the employee first,“Hi Betsy, what do you want to make sure happens in this 1:1?”

Think of all the responses a boss could get to that question. Think of how differently a boss would respond to the following:

  • I have 3 projects that are stuck because I need a decision from you
  • Let you know that the ABC product is going to ship 3 weeks late unless you …
  • I have lost confidence in my ability to lead this team and want to discuss leaving
  • Nothing. I don’t know why we meet each week

What a leader does with these responses is where the real influence begins. A leader needs to know reality and the state of the team member before knowing what is most important in a 1:1.

Curiosity is Key

If we are thinking rationally, curiosity is the key to influencing other people. Without clear questions and an open, curious mind, time is wasted and both parties leave frustrated.

  • Curiosity is Contagious — When we open a conversation CURIOUS about the other person, we can frame our content so they can find themselves in what we are saying. If they can find what they want in what we are saying they are more likely to listen. This is important in sales as noted above and in particular, in leadership.
  • True Commitment can’t be Faked — How people feel about THEMSELVES around a leader dictates commitment vs compliance. A leader who understands first is more likely to gain commitment from a team member. We do not manage time anymore, we manage attention, thus, commitment must be a goal in any conversation. Not verbalized faux commitment, real commitment.
  • Ask and Know For Sure — Why not ask, so you know what the reality is you are in? If influence requires another person’s mindset, state, preferences, emotional complexity etc., it seems more rational to do something to see where they are at before talking. In both of the scenarios above, what we say and how we say it changes based on how the other person comes to the party.

Of course, upon reflection, this seems so obvious, if we just ask, we’ll know for sure what others are looking for. We may not like what they say and perhaps that is why we just start talking, believing we can change reality with more and more and more words.

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