Listening Is the Most Powerful Form of Influence

by Barry Gruenberg

Listening is the Most Powerful Form of InfluenceIf you’re interested in raising the bar for innovation in your organization, start listening more. Listening, quite simply, is the most powerful form of influence.

Generally speaking, when we think of influencing others we are thinking about our ability to get others to think and act in ways we want them to, in ways that serve our interests and objectives.

The influence process is most often conceived as the ability to provide compelling arguments — that is, arguments that are indisputable and indicate there is only one way to proceed.

The influence process is seen as the ability to turn aside all alternative ways of thinking, to demonstrate their inadequacy in the service of making one’s own position more compelling.

The ability to influence goes beyond the ability to make a compelling argument, of course. It can also involve the use of power, seduction, or fear to drive others to a particular outcome.

What is much more rarely recognized is the role of listening and empathy in the influence process.

Listening to what concerns and drives others provides a powerful basis for influence because it is by showing how your perspective will affect the concerns and interests of others that you gain others’ interest and support.

But the case for listening and empathy goes much further.

If you can truly understand what others value and are concerned about, it can lead you to change your position about what is required to achieve the goals you are striving for.

If you deeply understand others, you can mobilize them, not by manipulation — but by gearing your approach to address the real needs and interests of your stakeholders.

Listening and appreciating multiple viewpoints can help you gain more acceptance for your ideas and better ideas. And, as it all plays out, these better ideas will eventually attract more support and increase your influence — so you can then listen more and attract more support.

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Barry GruenbergBarry Gruenberg is a highly experienced speaker, consultant and facilitator whose current passion is helping leaders in turbulent and highly complex environments create a culture and a context in which they can realize the greatest potential in themselves, their co-workers and their organizations.

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  1. Nice perspsctive. Listening skills are highly underrated as it is, and you just brought an important and generally ignored benefit of listening. As you rightly mention, influence generally conotes an ‘active’ style, and listening is generally considered to be the ‘passive’ style and hence gets ignored. As I learnt sometime back, to be interesting (to others), be interested (in others). And listening (along with tools like appreciative inquiry) provides such opportunity.

  2. Your observations are right on. It would be nice if Washington adopted your philosophy.

  3. Barry,
    As a change management practitioner, I totally agree! This is why many change efforts fail… the change communications becomes propeganda VS listening first, understanding stakeholder needs, and then interactively addressing those needs during the course of the journey. Thanks for posting!
    Cheers and warm regards,
    Jim
    @ocmconsultant

  4. I believe listening is the first critical step. Then association, for instance how can I make things better by what I have heard. Then planning how to put change in place and then the real power comes from executing on the plan. However, without the listening none of the rest is possible.

    I think there needs to be more classes on listening.

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