Early in my career I was idealistic, opinionated, and I’m pretty sure that my mouth’s filter was defective. I remember sitting in meetings in my early 20’s, voicing my thoughts and ideas with abandon, not questioning how they might land. I, of course, thought I was “right” about most everything, and wasn’t afraid to say so. Are all the leaders who are reading this, shuddering at the thought of having someone like my younger-self on your team? I suspect so. I am.
Most people would say that this was politically foolish—and they’d be right. Lucky for me, it was a small consulting firm and my boss was pretty conflict-adverse. He just smiled and nodded silently during the meetings, while my colleagues shifted in their seats uncomfortably. He pretty much left me on my own, and since I was a self-directed high-achiever, that worked for both of us. I worked my way up as far as one could go in a 7-person organization, and when the only place left to grow was out, I left. Surprisingly, he didn’t fight that. Can’t imagine why… Reflecting back, I’m a bit embarrassed.
As I’ve matured, I’m still a tad idealistic and opinionated, but I’ve come to recognize the wisdom in thinking before I speak. Not because of ambition, (although my blurting-ways would’ve surely been a career-killer, had I had aspirations in a larger organization) but because I really wanted to make a difference and to make a difference I needed to be able to influence.
The thing is, people can’t be influenced if they stop listening to you.
As Maya Angelou so poignantly said, “People will forget what you’ve said. People will forget what you did. But people never forget how you made them feel.”
That applies to when you make them feel crappy too.
One thing I know to be true is, when we make people wrong, they don’t want to listen to us any longer. “Talk to the hand!” And when we don’t treat people with respect, they don’t want to listen to us any longer. And why should they?
If we want people to listen to us—really listen—then we have to be willing to really listen to them as well.
Influence is more than being a crafty spin doctor—saying whatever you need to say to get people to agree. It’s more than bulldozing over others, in attempt to get them to do it your way. Influence is much harder. To influence, we need to pay attention to how we’re making others feel—for real. How they feel about us. How they feel about themselves. How they feel about about the issues at hand.
How they feel.
So start working on that filter! Because both of us know that the world needs someone to make a difference. Are you up for the challenge?