In all business interactions, from presenting a proposal to executive decision makers to collaborating on a project with team members to closing a sale with a customer, persuasion is critical to achieving goals and getting results. When trying to persuade someone, your success depends on how you communicate with them. A key element of persuasive communication is listening to others. Paying attention to what people have to say and how they say it, their word choices and way of speaking, can help you better understand their perspectives and priorities, and then adjust your communication to better meet them. Improving your ability to listen to others also requires improving your ability to get others to talk.
Through work with our clients, we've seen the importance of effective listening in building workplace relationships and gaining buy-in. To help you become a better listener and make the best use of questions, follow these tips:
Limit your own talking time and turn off your own concerns. Persuasive workplace communication isn’t a lecture—at its heart, it’s a conversation. Nearly half of your communication time should be spent listening. And you won’t be able to concentrate on and absorb what people are saying if your mind is focused on anxiously obsessing over whether your proposal, sales pitch, or message will be accepted.
Avoid snap judgments and jumping to conclusions. Strive to open your ears and clear your mind, so you can listen to what others have to say without bias or assumptions. React to ideas from the person you are trying to persuade, not the person. Once you make a conclusion, you shut off any further listening.
Ask questions and wait for people to respond. Questions can stimulate others’ thoughts and give you information, which are both essential when you’re trying to persuade people. So, after you ask a question, pause and genuinely listen to the answer. Questions also encourage others to continue talking and offer guideposts to help you set the direction of your persuasion process.
Understand and effectively use the different types of questions. With open questions, you can obtain vital information: the who, what, when, where, and how components of your listener’s point of view, objectives, and objections to overcome. You can use directional questions, asking why and how you might need to change your proposal or pitch, to move the other person toward your point of view. Finally, you can use closed questions, designed to give you a “yes” or “no” answer, to end discussion of the issue.
Get comfortable with asking feeling questions. Making a practice of asking questions such as “How do you feel about this?” and “Does what I’m telling you sound good?” is about more than common courtesy. Feeling questions are essential to connecting with your listeners on an emotional level. Sometimes you may need to adjust the type and tone of your questions to the listener. If you’re speaking with a listener who is more reserved, for example, ask more open questions. Or, if your listener is a rambler who jumps from subject to subject, wait for a pause and then use a strong directional question to keep them on track.
Becoming a better listener and question-asker takes effort and practice. Yet, eventually, these skills will become second nature in your workplace communication - and you’ll be able to persuade more people, more often, and strengthen your relationships in the process.