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Do you want to influence quickly? Part 1

Updated on November 13, 2012

If you want to influence others quickly, it is far more effective to ask a question than advocating or making a statement, even if it is a forceful or enthusiastic statement. This is especially so if the audience or person you are engaging with does not know you or knows only a little bit about you.

Why is asking a question more effective than making a statement if we want to influence quickly?

Pause and think about this for a moment before you read on….

When we ask a question, we engage another person’s mind.

When I ask you a question and then pause, you will naturally start to think of possible answers or responses to the question that I ask. The question that I asked 4 sentences ago does exactly this. I asked “Why is asking a question more effective than making a statement if we want to influence quickly?” You will start to search for possible responses, and in doing so, your mind is actively being engaged.

Secondly, asking a question conveys respect for the other person’s opinion. Everyone values his/her own opinion. Asking a question is saying to the other person “I value your opinion and I'd like to hear what you think about the issue or topic.”

Thirdly, asking a question allows you to understand the perspectives and possible frame of mind of the person or people that you are attempting to influence. After listening and hearing what they say in response to the questions, you are in a much better position to address any potential resistance or points of contention to what you plan to advocate.

Where does the word “quickly” fit into all this?

Quickly is used in the context of comparing asking questions versus advocating as an influencing strategy. It will be far quicker for me to influence someone else if I ask them questions to understand where they’re coming from and what their perspectives are before advocating my idea or proposal, rather than advocating my idea straight away. Advocating is less effective because it is natural for humans like you and me to resist, oppose or be skeptical of what others tell us, especially if the other person is a stranger or someone we’re not familiar with. The harder one pushes, the harder will be the push back from the receiving side.

Before you try this out, please remember this: Your mindset or frame of mind that you are in is very important because a mindset of genuine desire to help, to share information or to contribute (grounded in respect for the person/audience) will come through naturally in the way you carry yourself, the way you speak (e.g. tone of voice) and the words you use when you ask questions.

Preface or pre-empt any perceived arrogance or a “know-it-all” perception by asking for permission. Ask if it is ok for you to share or ask a question. The tone of your voice also makes a significant difference in how you’re being perceived by the other person.

Let’s work through an example. I once worked with a group of line managers from a client organization. When the conversation came to the topic of leadership, I wanted to explain to them what leadership was and how it was different from the traditional notions of management. I had prior to this, sensed that the people in the organization did not clearly understand leadership and may not buy into the need for leadership in the company. So, in order to “influence” them on the need for leadership in the organization, instead of the initial tendency to just open my mouth and explain to them what leadership was, I bit my tongue and asked a question instead. I asked them, “What is leadership about in your opinion, in your organization? What comes to mind when you think of leaders or leadership?” A large majority of the responses showed that the line managers viewed leadership as authority. This gave me a useful indicator of the current perception. I then followed up with an acknowledgement and validation of their responses, but went on to explain that leadership is more than authority. For example, I mentioned that motivating employees and staff is also a key leadership responsibility.

What about advocating? How should we advocate so that our ideas have a greater chance of being accepted? Stay tuned…That will be part 2 on this topic J


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