Three of the best qualities a persuasive communicator can have are passion, goal focus and a problem-solving orientation. But these positive qualities can actually get in the way of effective listening if they’re overdone.
Passion: Passion is great; it can be contagious and we can be more believable when we let the listener see how much we care about the topic. But everything carries a cost, and passion for your idea can easily turn into arrogance and missed opportunity. The reality is that no one else is passionate about your pet project as you are, and they will ultimately agree for their own reasons—not yours.
The other problem with passion is that you just don’t shut up. You have to tone down the passion long enough to listen to the other’s point of view. You will have plenty of time to dial the passion back up when you go into transmit mode, so squelch it while you’re in receiving mode.
Dial down the passion and dial up the empathy.
Problem-solving: We love to solve problems for others; and that’s a good thing. But we have to tone it down during the listening phase. Rushing in too early with a solution can create problems for you. First, you may be wrong; you may solve the wrong problem, or provide an incomplete solution because you don’t have enough information to understand it completely. Second, even if the answer is exactly right, your credibility may suffer if the other person gets the sense that that’s what you were going to say no matter what.
If you want your solution to land on willing ears, slow down, ask a few more questions to either dig deeper into causes or to bring out the costs of not solving, and–best of all—to let the other person arrive at the solution and make it their own.
Dial down the rush to solve and dial up the patience.
Goal focus: It’s great to have a specific goal in mind for a presentation, sales call, or conversation. But being too focused on your goal is like driving down a busy highway only looking at what’s in the lane in front of you. It’s called inattentional blindness, and it’s illustrated by the now-famous “invisible gorilla” video and Richard Wiseman’s research into what makes some people luckier than others. Similarly, we want to ask excellent questions, but sometimes we’re so focused on the answer we’re looking for that we miss other important information.
By all means, keep your goals and your questions, but use them as a safety net rather than a straitjacket. By getting them out of your head and putting them on paper, you can focus your full attention on your counterpart, knowing that your written goals and questions will be there if and when you need them.
Dial down the searchlight and dial up the floodlight.