Wisdom//

A Social Psychologist Explains How to Establish a Positive Presence

Hint: If you want to be heard, listen.

Listening is crucial to presence. And the challenges that arise when we really need to listen are the same ones that make it hard to be sufficiently present to do so. Real listening can’t happen unless we have a sincere desire to understand what we’re hearing. And that’s not an easy thing to manage, because it requires us to suspend judgment — even when we’re feeling frustrated or scared or impatient or bored and even when we feel threatened or anxious about what we’re about to hear (because we think we know it or because we don’t know it). We have to give other people space and safety to be honest — and we can’t respond defensively when we’re listening. For some of us, it also means we need to overcome our fear of silence — of space. 

The paradox of listening is that by relinquishing power — the temporary power of speaking, asserting, knowing — we become more powerful. When you stop talking, stop preaching, and listen, here’s what happens: 

People can trust you. As we’ve seen, if you don’t have people’s trust, you will find it very hard to influence them in a deep and lasting way. 

You acquire useful information, which makes it much easier to solve any problem you face. You may think you know the answer, but before you’ve listened to what another person really thinks and feels — what truly motivates her — you can’t be sure. 

You begin to see other people as individuals — and maybe even allies. You no longer see other people as stereotypes. You move from “us versus them” to simply “us.” Your goals become shared, not conflicting. 

You develop solutions that other people are willing to accept and even adopt. When people contribute to the solutions — when they are co-owners of them — they are more likely to commit to and follow through with them. People are also much more likely to accept even a negative outcome when they feel that the procedure that got them there was fair. For something to be “procedurally just,” as psychologists call it, the affected parties must believe that they’ve been heard, understood, and treated with dignity and that the process and its key drivers are trustworthy. And they’re much more likely to feel that a procedure was fair when they were involved in developing it. For example, employees can accept not receiving a promotion if they helped develop the guidelines and expectations that led to the decision. 

When people feel heard, they are more willing to listen. This is both stunningly intuitive and stunningly hard for us to do: if people do not feel that you “get” them, they are not inclined to invest their time and energy in activities — such as listening — that will help them to understand you. And it’s particularly important for leaders to understand, because they need to serve as models of good listening. 

Excerpted from PRESENCE Copyright © 2018 by Amy Cuddy.
Used with permission of Little, Brown and Company, New York. All rights reserved.

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