Seek to Understand before you are understood.
This is a famous Dale Carnegie quote from How to win friends and influence people. The most influential book of my career.
Would you like to have greater influence with the people you work and study with?
Do you really need some buy-in from colleagues or superiors to get your project off the ground or secure the that last round of funding?
Being able to positively influence others is a fantastic trait any leader should have. But it is not as easy as waving a magic wand to make it happen. Influence comes from trust and the authentic connections you create with people.
Developing influencing skills is a journey not a destination. I am learning every day and have done for over 30 years, reflecting on my interactions with others and continually growing. The most important shift in thinking is it’s not about you! Centre yourself in others and let go of your needs, it’s not about you when you are leader, it’s all about your team.
There are 7 Key steps you need to follow on your journey to increase your influence on others.
Active listening, by asking questions is paramount if you don’t want to damage Trust or rapport. I then play back what I have heard and check that I have understood the other person correctly. Paraphrasing and playing back what you have heard is a great way to build trust with someone, as is asking great questions. At the end of the meeting summarise the actions you are going to take.
Straight after the call send an email summarising the actions, next steps and when you are going to get back to the person.
Early on in my career, I spent a lot of time talking and not listening, I was too busy looking for an opportunity to make my point or to impress others. That led me to talk across people and transmit. At the time, I wanted to be heard, unfortunately the behaviour means that you are often not heard. I was not listening to what was being said as I was too busy trying to find a gap for me to speak. This is not listening at all.
Today when someone talks across you, it’s annoying, what’s more annoying is when people say “don’t mean to cut you off” , as if they thinks ok for them to speak. This comment is very patronising and overused.
Another tip is when I am on the phone I often walk about so I am not distracted by what’s happening on my PC.
Key: message: Active listening is about seeking to understand before you are understood, asking questions, focusing on others, paraphrasing, summarising and following up.
2. Face to face
My second story is about is about a manager I worked for who never sent an email. I never saw an email from him, he always used the phone or face to face to respond to an email. He saw it as the best opportunity to connect with others and build stronger relationships. He would be off all the time meeting his peers and superiors, never missed the opportunity to connect directly. In a short period, he had built tremendous rapport with his leaders, peers and subordinates.
When I asked him in our regular catch ups about not answering emails, he laughed and said I have been in the unfortunate situation of responses being misunderstood and being forwarded to people for which the message was not intended. Emails are dangerous as they can be misinterpreted.
I have learnt that lesson many times, when email goes wrong: it’s easy to put people offside, your email forwarded to the wrong people, the list goes wrong. The worse part it can halt or severely damage your career.
Email is over used and rarely understood in the way the message was intended. When I see my team or peers agonising writing an email so not to offend I always ask, ‘why are your writing an email as opposed to meeting the person or calling” Every time the person writing the email says that’s a great idea.
When you meet face to face you can pick up the body language. Folded arms mean the person is closed, open legged means open although can be aggressive is leaning forward. For me these are cue in a meeting, they help me to target questions to ensure that I understood the situation and get them to open up. If they have their arms folded, I may ask them, I sense you are uncomfortable about the situation, what is concerning you? If you have no visual cues its difficult.
When you get the email, schedule a time with the person to follow up, don’t need to do it straight away. If you cannot do that pick up the phone. This is an opportunity to build rapport. You cannot build rapport over email.
Key Message: Don’t use email to communicate, pick up the phone or go and see the person as the first preference for communication. Email is the last resort! This is the opportunity to Seek to understand before your understood.
3. Read Dale Carnegie How to win friends and influence people
My third story, Dale Carnegie’s book, how to win friends and influence people, I was 24 years old and overlooked for a promotion.
When I found out a colleague had the role I met with and confronted him please tell me why I did not get the role. My colleague responded and said my peers and leaders saw me as difficult, defensive, disruptive, not taking stakeholders on the journey, often getting them offside with my poor approach and communications. In three years no one had given me the feedback. In that moment I really appreciated my colleagues frankness, even though it felt like someone had ripped out my heart. Being open minded and not defensive is the accelerated pathway to success. When you are not, you are in trouble as you cannot achieve your aspirations.
I asked my colleague what I could do to change and he suggested the Dale Carnegie course based on the book How to win friends and influence people. My colleague secured the funding from the business.
For the next 12 weeks I attended the sessions which related to each chapter of the book. Each week I had to commit to a behaviour change and report back to 40 class mates. It was a tremendous journey. Seek to understand before I am understood became my mantra. I loved the book, the stories, some of Dale Carnegies and some from key figures in history, all delivering a key message about how to influence others.
Each session challenged my poor behaviour. As each week went by, I realised my lack of influence on others and the work I needed to do. The course to this day, has been the most valuable of my career. I have read the book “how to win friends and influence people” numerous times and still learn. At the end of 12 weeks, I felt like a different person and understood others way more than previously, when I was purely focused on me! My colleague had given me a gift, that never stopped giving. My colleague to this day I remind him, how he helped me and the huge influence on my career.
I have heard comments that this book is about manipulating others, it’s far from it, it is about understanding the joy of giving to others, which is essential for happiness. We may not be taught this from our upbringing or from school or uni, these are life skills that path the way to happiness in all aspects of your life and everyone that you meet.
Key Message: Read Dale Carnegie’s How to win friends and influence people.
4. Make people feel important
When you appreciate another person for anything that he or she has done or said, you ae building rapport and trust.
Every day find a reason to praise others, privately or in public. If I am in a meeting, I recognise the contributor of ideas, call out individuals who have gone above and beyond.
This week, I had a situation where I needed help from the team member for an important meeting. At short notice I called in one of the team members, who stepped in and did a great job. In recognition I bought him lunch. Called out service team members who have helped us above and beyond to deliver a great customer experience for 180 business sites. I was blown away with the speed and right first-time approach, so I called them out using spark which is a public recognition portal. I also had a customer whom has gone above beyond and in the governance meeting in amongst his peers I called out the work he had done beyond his role to secure support in the business.
Another leader I worked for always had Thank your cards, he would write personal notes and leave the cards on people’s desks. It meant the world if you received a handwritten personal card.
Genuine praise for others goes a long way to building rapport. You disarm them and enable a more open conversation to take place. Genuine praise means being specific i.e. your presentation really helped us get a better understanding of the challenges in the business.
Don’t confine your thinking in regard to praise, it can be for a teacher, your boss who has really gone out of their way to help you, a colleague who corrected a project you were submitting, your girlfriend or boyfriend who made you dinner. Never take anyone for granted, take the time, make people feel very special. Get practising now and you will be inspirational as a leader.
Key Message: Give honest and sincere appreciation.
5. Be fearless
Take the time to give feedback to others. Essential that you have trust with that person first and that you do it in a supportive way. Explain that the reason you are taking the time, is that you care about them and want to support them.
Feedback is a gift, you will work for people in your career that don’t give you feedback, how can you improve or grow if they are not comfortable giving you feedback. If you are defensive then you shut down the person who is prepared to have the tough conversations.
Unfortunately, I have worked for leaders that are not comfortable giving feedback, which usually means they are discussing you with someone else!
My rule is if they don’t give me feedback they don’t care about me; therefore, I should find someone to work for who does.
key message: always find the courage to have the tough conversations and support the person to make the feedback palatable. If someone gives you feedback thank them.
My sixth story is about judgement. In the 20 years working for entrepreneurial start-ups, did three of them I was ruthless with my time and people. I would be dismissive if I did not get what I needed, moved on and not even given a thought to the individual. This works ok in Entrepreneurial land, but not in corporate. Fortunately, I got a business coach before going into corporate, who was able to pick up on my Judgement challenges and coach me. When I sounded off about someone because they failed me or crossed me, my coach called it ‘the blue mist moment’ This is a trait I am least proud of and has got me into a heap of trouble in my
past. I am least proud of my ability to judge in seconds. The worst part about Judgement is can bring your career to a halt.
Seek to understand before your understood is vital, with no judgement, you never know when you are going to meet again in your career.
Because most people are judgemental and critical, to be unconditionally accepted by another person raises that person’s self-esteem, reinforces his or her self-image, and makes that person much more lik
ely to accept you and follow your lead.
Key Message: Make the other person feel important – and do it sincerely.
7. Public Speaking
The last story is an item I have had on my to do list for 20 years. It took me 20 years to go to Toastmasters. I got to a point in my career, where I was speaking more and more in front of larger audiences and I was not confident and not good. 4 years ago, I started on a journey with toastmasters that has been an amazing journ
ey, every fortnight I challenged myself.
Every year in a previous role we ran a sale kick off, this year we amalgamated the regions and instead of 80 people we had 220. One of my counterparts was the Master of Ceremonies for the event. He fell sick the night before the kick off and I took on the role for the whole day with 12 hours’ notice. I prepare
d by going through the run sheet, profile of the speakers and timings. I loved every minute of it. During the partner speeches, Michael froze, he was perspiring and did not look good, there was a long pause, you could hear a pin drop as the audience looked on. I was waiting for him to get a word out and it seemed like a lifetime. I jumped up on stage with the roving mike and asked Michael, tell me about your business, how did you start your business. Michael instantly relaxed and I continued to ask questions about his business. We concluded the session and I announced the next speaker.
During the break many people came up to me and said how did you do that? With no preparation you could put the speaker at ease. My response I have been practising at Toastmasters for the last 4 years, every fortnight I practice.
Being able to ask great questions, being concise when you ask questions is a key influencing skill. The impromptu speaking at toastmasters is an excellent way to practice. Getting to the point delivering key messages is an important influencing skill.
Key Message: Take up toastmasters and deliver the art of delivering your messages succinctly.
There are 7 steps you need to follow on your journey to increase your influence on others.
- Practice active Listening
- Don’t use email, use the face to face or call
- Read Dale Carnegie How to win friends and influence people
- Give honest and sincere feedback
- Always find the courage to have the tough conversations and support the person to make the feedback palatable.
- Make the other person feel important – and do it sincerely.
- Take up toastmasters
At the end of the day, virtually everything comes down to your ability to effectively deal with people. Thus, if you expect to succeed in the world of sales and business, you must continually sharpen your people skills.
As Dale Carnegie said:
Seek to understand before you are understood