Why should anyone listen to you?
If you’re trying to lead people, one of the first challenges you face might be just getting them to listen. This can be doubly challenging if you happen to be newer to the team or younger than the others.
When it comes to getting people’s attention, there’s one thing that we tend to forget about that can make all the difference.
They Have to Listen to Me, Don’t They?
If you are in a formal position of authority – a manager or supervisor, you have a head start on getting people’s attention. The tools available to a person with legitimate power can be potent. After all, you’re the boss. But that doesn’t mean they’re excited to hear what you have to say.
Another way to get people’s attention when you are talking is if you clearly know what you are talking about. When you have the power of the expert, people are more likely to pay attention.
But what about when neither of these apply? We can’t be experts in everything, and sometimes the people we are trying to influence don’t officially fall under us on the organization chart.
There’s still something very powerful that we can do, but it requires a change in how we look at things.
When we think about talking, often our focus is on us: what we think, what we want to say, what we want the other person to do.
To get someone else’s attention, it helps to reframe our approach: focus on them.
WIIFM (What’s In It For Me)? At base, most people are pretty self-centered – we’re built that way out of necessity. So if we want to get their attention, it’s a good idea to keep this in mind. We’re asking them to devote time to listen to us, so in exchange for that time, they will want to know pretty quickly how listening can benefit them.
The clearer this is in their minds, the better. We can help ourselves in this respect by understanding what appeals to them.
To find out, ask.
Get past the superficial in conversation, and ask them open ended questions that bring out what’s important to them.
Identity. What makes them feel vital to the team? What is it about what they do that gives them a sense of meaning and importance?
Passions. What gets them excited? What do they like to do with their discretionary time? What gets their interest?
Progression. How well do their skills match the demands of their current position? Where do they want to go? What’s the next step for them to get there?
Frustrations. What are their stumbling blocks – what’s preventing them from doing and achieving more, both personally or professionally?
Watch Your (body) Language
While you are asking these questions, be conscious of what your body is telling them, even as they are talking to you. You want them to understand that you are really listening.
Show your interest by focusing on them with your eyes. Square your shoulders towards them. Uncross arms and feet, and maybe lean forward in your chair if you are seated. And by all means, keep your phone out of sight. Good leadership begins with good listening skills, and those are rooted in our physical posture.
Once we’ve shown we are interested and willing to engage with our teammates, getting them to listen becomes easier. Now we know what is important to them right now and in the future. We know what they think is holding them back.
And when we can talk in terms of the things that are important to them, they are much more likely to listen to what it is that we have to say.
Of course what we say is important, but how we say it is also a big deal. Things like tone, volume, pitch, and pace can all radically alter the meaning of the words coming out of our mouths.
For more about ways to make your delivery more interesting, you might find value in this TED Talk by communication expert Julian Treasure (I’d just advise doing the warm-up exercises in private!).
Getting Them to Listen – The Takeaway
There are times when people have to listen to you (or at least they are supposed to). But if we only rely on position or expertise we’re missing out on a more powerful way of influencing them.
People are more likely to listen when they see the benefit to them for doing so.
To find out what’s important to them, ask.
It might seem strange, but if our goal is getting them to listen, the smartest thing we can do might be to start with a little listening of our own.