Many years ago, I was given a piece of advice by a sales manager colleague which has stuck with me ever since: “God gave you two ears and one mouth. Use them in those proportions!”
This is not just about sales in the formal sense. Whenever we are trying to influence people for any kind of outcome – and let’s face it, that is most of the time – we should remember it.
Where does influence come from? To gain influence, first we need to be trusted. People need to believe that we are behaving with integrity, that we have their interests in mind, not just our own. Naturally it is best if that is actually true. Second, we need to be respected (in fact, ‘respect for’ is almost shorthand for ‘willing to be influenced by’). Much of respect comes from a perception that we speak with authority, which presupposes trust in what we say.
How do we establish trust? That is where the ears come in. Sadly, the experience of many people in many organisations is that managers never find the time to listen to them properly. Even if you are sitting in front of him or her, it may be clear that the manager’s mind is only half on the conversation you are trying to have. How can you know what matters to someone if you don’t listen when they tell you? If you don’t know, how can you be trusted to look after them? Those ears are very powerful!
As a change manager, listening is a particularly powerful tool. It is a truism that most people dislike change, but I believe that much of that is about feeling they have no voice in it. Even when people come into a meeting feeling angry about a change that is being imposed on them, it always amazes me how much more acceptance can be achieved simply by spending time really listening to them tell you what they don’t like – even if you can’t alter it. Good listening involves the mouth as well: how do they know you heard them if you don’t play it back?
Once you have listened and built some trust, you are in a position to build respect too: by explaining the changes in a way that relates to their concerns but is anchored in reason. They will still need to move through the change curve, but by using your ears and your mouth in the right ways and the right proportions you can make that easier for everyone.