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November 27, 2014

How to boost your influence through rapport and powerful questions

In both the business and sports world’s  it’s often the case that smart people are challenged to interact with other smart people in shorter and shorter amounts of pressurised time.  This shouldn’t be a problem, because of said smartness, however it can be when the opinions of the people in the discussion are not aligned or their thinking processes are different, sometimes even their smartness is about different things.  When this is the case, far too many of those meetings and discussions turn into contests and disengagements.

This article is primarily focused on how to connect 1-1, however many of these same skills, techniques and approaches can be applied for group conversation.  It is important to acknowledge the challenge is greater to have powerful conversations whilst in a group as it requires more collective structure, skills and buy-in.

How does meetings and discussions turn into contests and disengagements?

  • Listeners start finishing the speaker’s sentences – even if the assumption of what is being concluded is correct the speaker doesn’t feel listened to and sometimes feels that he/she was treated dismissively
  • Listeners interrupt the speaker with a “better” argument, which leads to the interrupted formulating his/her counter-argument whilst the other is speaking which ends up with no-one really listening. This cycle can carry on and on…
  • The Listener jumps three steps in the conversation and starts speaking to that advanced point before the speaker gets there either verbally or mentally, oftentimes both.
  • The Listener asks Why questions about mistakes/errors or decisions. This can lead to defensiveness. A much more effective way to ask inquiry questions is to use “What happened that” or “What was your criteria for” questions.  There is more about the danger of Why questions and the power of What questions here

If you really want to influence others, questions are more powerful than statements. If you want people to be more open to your questions you need to demonstrate that you have heard and understood their point of view first, before they have “open” ears to hear yours.  Connection leads to influence.

Here’s how things can be done differently

Rapport is important:

Two simple ways to create rapport:

1) Try to match the posture of the speaker, see how their legs are crossed or not, are they sitting upright or slightly slouched? Find your version of that posture that is comfortable for you – try to be in a similar posture to them for the entire conversation, even if you have to shift subtly when they do.

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2) Do not sit directly in front of that person you are having a conversation with, try to angle yourself 30 to 40 degree as in the picture below. If possible have no desks or other physical obstacles between you and them. If there is a desk, try to make sure you are not directly in line with that person. This helps you remain connected whilst getting out of their space/visual focus area.  This technique is especially important for men talking to women so as to avoid unintentional intimidation. Skilled interviewers and politicians consistently use this technique.

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Framing makes a big difference

Framing is the skill of giving something a meaning or a context, an effective frame is given by the influencer in a situation and then matched by his/her behaviour. Framing sets the context for the conversation, think carefully about what the most powerful frame you can provide is, and then match it.

Every meeting will have a given frame or an assumed frame. The challenge is that the assumed frame might be, “This is another waste of time.” or ,”These guys are not on my side.” or worse. So instead of risking the frame being given by someone else or assumed based on history or politics, rather offer it before the meeting starts as a way to set the tone.

Examples. “I am looking forward to hearing all your point’s of view, and then offering mine so we can find a win/win going forward.”

“I value your contribution, especially because I know you think differently to me, so I am looking forward to us understanding each other better so we can move forward.”

“I believe for us to be effective we need to work closely together, I look forward to hearing your ideas and thoughts on how to do that so we can make a difference with this project”

Or the powerful feedback frame that increases effort by 40% as shared by Daniel Coyle, “I’m giving you these comments because I have very high expectations and I know that you can reach them”

Use the skill of summary:

If you are truly listening you can use the coaching skill of creating a summary to show that you have tracked what the speaker has said. This is best done when the conversation is stalling or the speaker has finished presenting a complex or detailed point of view. The key here is to repeat the specific words of what the speaker was saying and create a succinct summary with those words. “Let me see if I understand what you are saying, you mentioned that …. “

And then finally the questions:

When the framing, rapport, connection, and the experience of the talker feeling heard are in place, here are four (of many) styles of powerful questions that you can start with to boost your influence.

1)       The how does this fit question.  If you are listening closely you will hear the gap in the speaker’s logic or thinking, or the gap between what they say and what they are doing, or the gap between policy/directive and the speaker’s argument. Or the gap between where the project was heading and where it is heading now …

“Earlier you mentioned X, and now you are saying Y, I am curious how does that fit?”

“I have heard you say A and B, and talked about C, however I understand this meeting’s agenda is focused on D – how does that fit?”

2)      The logic jumping question.  Convert the question that you asked yourself unconsciously to jump three steps ahead of the conversation to a conscious question.  You do this by asking yourself, “How do I know that I want to talk about Step 3?, What is the next step, and how many steps are there to my point?” or “What are the steps in-between my thinking and the speakers thinking?” Once you have your first question, ask the speaker that question so that you can start to get on the same page. You might need a few questions for this, and as you get better you will instinctively ask the questions in a better order so that the speaker doesn’t get lost because your logic leap was too big.”

3)      The “What happened that ….?”  question. If you are asking questions about something negative a more impactful way to influence the conversation instead of the Why question – which can lead to defensiveness and sometimes even an inaccurate answer, is to use the “What happened that?” question. You can also ask, “What was your criteria for choosing X?”

4)      I think we may be missing each other question? This is to be used when in a group setting and you are realising that you need to be connecting more in person to get to a shared understanding. “I think we are misunderstanding each other and I would like to engage with you 1-1 offline as soon as possible so that we can come to a shared understanding of each others thinking.”