I’ve mentioned on other blogs that my current role is all about leading major projects to change the nature of peoples’ jobs. In particular, my role focuses on changing the nature of how my organization takes orders from customers, whether online, over the phone, or even by email. In many ways this boils down to two things. First, identifying the best way to make a process more efficient by analyzing data. The second is convincing others to follow the new process. If you take a step back, the latter is the harder part of what I do in my job. People are change adverse, so when they see me coming they are not necessarily happy. Think of me as one of the Bobs from Office Space except I’m also considered one of the experts in my field. Anyway, I digress a bit, today’s post is about getting others to change their positions through Active Listening.
Now, I will start by prefacing, while my role is like the Bobs from Office Space in some ways, it’s not in a lot of others. My company is in a growth industry, so the question is not whether we can save money by letting people go. Instead the question is always, Can we take on more business with the same amount of people by being more efficient? It’s a slight and important nuance that makes my life easier in what I’m about to describe. I generally like my job in my current environment, but I’d hate it if I were the guy that brought the layoff axe.
What is Active Listening?
So how do I go about getting around peoples’ natural resistance to change their day to day processes? I start with the concept of Active Listening. It sounds like a big word, but at its essence its all about attempting to understand the other person’s positions and values. The idea is to listen to what the individual is saying and try to not let their non verbal cues cloud your perceptions. So for example, are they crossing their arms when they are talking to you? Sure, that might indicate they aren’t listening, but it could also just be how they like to rest their arms. Did their voice rise over a particular point? That still might not be their key concern. The key is not to assume based on these signs that you understand their concern.
To further ensure you understand where they stand and why, before ever explaining where things are going, you have to listen to what they have to say. Then when it’s your turn to speak, start by repeating back what they said in your own words. It’s critical to do this without judgement, arguing prematurely, or annoyance. Put your emotions to the side until you understand their position. Ask them clarifying questions in the process. This ensures you really understand why they disagree or are resistant to the change. Often times you’ll find the resistance is not what you initially perceive. Studies have shown that many arguments are simply a case of people talking past each other, by not taking the time to understand the other’s position. Other times non verbal cues cloud what someone is really stating such that their true concerns are not heard. Restating will help you get to the core of the true concern and values of the individual.
Convincing Others to Change with Shared Value
The only way to convince an individual to change is to make the change seem like their idea. You need to frame the topic in respect to the values you learned about using Active Listening. If they don’t fully buy into the change it won’t be successful, and getting that buy in usually means hitting those values. Sure, there are sometimes where they will go along for lack of a better option or because they have to, but these are less then ideal to ensuring the change takes. So, the focus should always first be on selling the change. For example when talking to someone in the workplace in a job with low barriers to entry and layoff, the key is to convince them the discussion will not cost them their job. Framing it as something that will make their current job easier to execute is usually a surefire starting approach. Especially if you can hit on one of their job annoyances, one of the things that really bugs them about their day to day that doesn’t add value. Alternately if the person has ambitions of a future position another great tact is to speak to the time it will free up for them to pursue opportunities. You get the idea, each example is unique and you’re searching for that angle.
Application of Active Listening to Personal Finance
Why did I spend a page and a half explaining how to get someone to change positions? Well, think about the applicability in the personal finance world.
- Imagine I’m negotiating a pay raise with my boss. Using active listening can allow you to search for your bosses current needs. If you can position yourself to fill them, your raise request has a higher likelihood of being successful.
- If you’re negotiating to sell or buy something the same thing applies. Active Listening can help you determine what is that person’s need or value and how can you frame your offer in terms of it.
- If you’re trying to convince a friend, spouse, or other family member to change their spendy ways, this would be the way to do it. Why are they spending, what is the value to them. Are they spending because they really want the item, stress spending, or for some other reason. Find a different placeholder for that driver and they will have a much higher likelihood of changing their behavior.
- One major usage of Active Listening is in marriage counseling and resolving other types of conflicts between individuals. Getting both individuals to understand the other’s values and needs can lead to less of a combative view between two individuals. Research is mixed on how well this works simply because when individuals truly are in conflict they don’t tend to have the wherewithal to step back and listen for that underlying position or value. The nature of their conflict itself precludes active listening. Still it might help.
Do you practice Active Listening? Has it helped you in your career or life?
I learned about active listening when I joined my current company ten years ago. At the time my employer required all higher level employees to take a course entitled “Crucial Conversations Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High“. This course is also available in book form. I have included a link to this book on Amazon by clicking the book title. As always this is an affiliate link and I will receive some renumeration if you purchase this book, through no cost to you.
Thanks for sharing the course recommendation FTF – seems like that would be very beneficial.
I practice active listening to ensure I’m getting the points of my bosses and peers. It isn’t just to hear them, it’s to take what they are saying, figure out why they are saying it, and then figuring out how to respond. It’s quite a fun and fascinating game 🙂
Have a good day – Erik
I don’t use active listening much, but I’ve been practicing on getting better at using it. I find it pretty hard when initially, all I want to do is talk and be listened to, which is quite frankly the opposite of listening. I have, however, been getting better with each conversation and am starting to somewhat get the hang of it. Hopefully, by the end of the year, I will excel in being an active listener and will be able to converse on a more effective and efficient level.
Your post sums up the biggest hurdle to success with Active Listening. Pretty much all of us have a natural inclination to jump to conclusions and want to talk instead of listen. However, if you want to get ahead the listening is usually way more important then the talking.
Great reminder on one of the best tricks of the trade! Trade being any job where you have to exert influence both directly (easier if you’re the boss) and indirectly (usually everyone else). I practice active listening quite often in my corporate role, although I must admit that it takes a lot of patience with some people. You also have to do it in a way that doesn’t end up annoying the other person, since it’s easy to come off as patronizing if you’re not careful.
Its certainly not an easy skill to master. Your right, the hardest part is actively validating what the person is saying without judgement while avoiding coming off as patronizing, or worse showing your frustrations in the process.
I need to come back and re-read this post weekly. So applicable in all areas of life!
In the meantime, I’m curious about your role with data? My husband is a data viz architect, which may be different from your leadership role, but I wondered if you’re familiar with Tableau software?
Thanks. I’m very familiar with Tableau. In my last role I managed a global team of data scientists and architects. They used tools, like Tableau, to provide analytics for operational business decisions. We were also responsible for designing the divisions global data warehouse in SAP Hana.
These days I’m just a consumer of data with a Six Sigma Black Belt. What type of data does your husband visualize?
Very cool! He’s worked with all sorts of data from Fortunte 500 companies that sell goods and services to clients in the financial sphere. As a hobby he likes to visualize sports data. Just last month he decided to go out on his own. If you’re interested, his portfolio is at RyanSleeper.com.
I don’t want to toot my own horn, but I think I do this fairly well in my social circle, particularly my job requires a lot of active listening (in understanding processes and procedures or accounting and finance departments to implement improvements). But again in my social circle, this may sound weird but my friends and family talk sooooo much that if I listen more there will just be an overload of information. So apart from the work environment, I try to do more active talking rather than listening just because of the change in environment.
There is definitely a time and place where talking and participating becomes more important.
I’m with Smart Provisions. I can definitely use some help in this area. I certainly know what it feels like not to be listened to by people who are just waiting to cut you off and jump in. Over time I either stop talking to those people, or I only have perfunctory conversation with them.
I definitely try to do active listening everyday. I am trying to get the concerns of my end users back to my team so that we can trouble shoot through the problems and see what’s possible and what is unreasonable demands. Being able to see their side of the coin helps out and I’ve made some really great relationships in order to help facilitate these discussions. But it’s not always easy to be an active listener as I have a tendency to let my mind wander thinking about solutions instead of staying present all the time.
I think that’s probably a fairly normal feeling. It’s hard to not make assumptions on where someone is going and jump to conclusions. Holding off though can often stave off conflict.
Thanks for posting that. Although the ideas of how to bring these skills to the personal finance world is important and something I enjoy this is not how you helped me. You reminded me to be a good listener. I fear I talk to much when visiting with others and need to focus more on being a good listener to them. I will put some of the skills you mentioned here to use as soon as possible.
I’m glad the reminder helped. Thanks for the thoughtful comment and stopping by.