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26 June 2011

Allison read the C-VILLE Power Issue and reflected on one major source of power and influence.

Tags: communication, listening, uva

I’m a loyal C-VILLE reader, and I look forward to picking up the paper every Tuesday and finding out what the writers have been thinking about all week. I never miss The Power Issue because I’m curious to see what the writers who watch our community all year believe constitutes power. Power is a tricky construct and I like that the Interim Managing Editor, Will Goldsmith, acknowledged that fact in his editorial, Read This First, when he wrote “Even we recognize the inherent ridiculousness of ranking people based on such an elusive concept.” This year you’ll find that the C-VILLE thinks UVA President, Teresa Sullivan, has trumped Coran Capshaw for the number one spot. You’ll also see more UVA leaders than usual as well as influential people from Charlottesville and Albemarle County government and a few educators (UVA crew included), real estate developers, activists, and nonprofit leaders. But I’m not trying to blog about the content of the issue. Rather I find myself inspired to write about how I think people can achieve power and influence.

I’ve heard of many of the people in this year’s top 20 and I know a few of them. I’m not sure I could say what makes them all powerful and clearly the reasons would be different for each, but here’s what I know for sure… several of them are some of the best listeners I’ve ever met and that’s why I’m writing today. We teach a lot of leadership development skills at Allison Partners, but every member of our team will tell you that there’s very little more important in the leadership toolkit than the power of attentive, active listening.

Here’s an activity I do in every communication class I teach. Try it with me now. Who in your life listens to you really well and makes you feel heard and understood in that deep, in the bones way? Close your eyes and visualize that person or if you’re lucky, people. Once you’ve got a lock on a mental image, open your eyes. Now… ask yourself this question, “What am I willing to do for that person? If he or she needs something, how do I respond?” Most people tell me that the person in their lives who listens to them well is also the person who gets their loyalty and responsiveness.  So you can see why becoming a really good listener yourself would allow you to increase your influence and power. Now at this point in class someone usually asks, “But isn’t that manipulative” and I always answer, “If someone wants to manipulate me by really making me feel heard and taking what’s important to me very seriously, then let the manipulation commence. I think I can handle whatever happens next.”

Perhaps you’re wondering what constitutes good listening. We share lots of examples and give you more context, proof and opportunities to practice when you come to class, but these are the basics:

  • Be quiet
  • Use your body language to let the person know you are there
  • Give an occasional “uh huh” or nod
  • Stay focused on the conversation
  • Ask non-judgmental questions
  • Make a guess about a feeling
  • Restate some of what the person said
  • Remember that you may not understand, but you can still listen well

We also remind people that it’s important to try not to do the following:

  • Judge or criticize
  • Ask excessive questions
  • Look at your computer or handheld device
  • Offer advice or diagnose the “problem”
  • Change the subject
  • Immediately tell your own experience
  • Think of what you will say while the person is talking
  • Assume the speaker feels the same way you would
  • Be overly reassuring

As you can see, these tips certainly aren’t rocket science. However, most of us report that very few people listen to us well. So here’s the rocket science portion of the programing… slow down, take a deep breath and try listening the way I’ve described above a few times a day. And if you really want to see the difference listening can make, try these tips with someone who often frustrates you. I think you’ll find that good listening changes a frustrating dynamic dramatically and that more influence is waiting for you if you’ll just pause to make listening a priority. I don’t know if you’ll ever make The Power Issue, but I do believe that you’ll become a better leader.

p.s. Check out Vital Smarts if you’re looking for books, training and other resources to help you with all of your communication skills. It’s the home of many of our favorite tools including the book, Crucial Conversations, which makes our reading list of our seven all-time favorite books.


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Terry Beigie
Jun 26, 2011

Really great post, Allison!

Allison Linney
Jun 29, 2011

Thanks Terry! I was glad the article inspired me to blog about our recommendations for listening effectively.

Gaynell Dudley
Jul 05, 2011

Great advice! Thanks for sharing.


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