I’m sitting in a hotel lobby with my back to the nearly-vacant bar. Two businessmen are talking to each other about a potential deal they’d like to make.
Correction: they’re not talking to each other, they’re talking at each other. In nearly an hour, I have heard almost zero high-gain questions. Instead, they’re like two pilots talking to each other over the radio – with the transmit key held down constantly. You hear words every now and then, but it’s mostly static.
As frustrated as I feel listening to these guys hammering away at each other, I can promise they’re having a worse time. You can hear it in their voices as a cordial beginning has turned into increasingly exasperated attempts to control, cajole, and push each other. Even their checking questions sound like statements: “So you want me to do… Is that right?”
Put yourself in their shoes for a second. What could either of these two guys do that would actually break the deadlock and get them closer to the same page?
Here’s one simple idea: Ask some open-ended questions and then shut up. Listen carefully, and after a while summarize to check for understanding. Then walk away. That’s right, make sure the other person knows that you understand him, promise to think about it, and walk away. Let time and space sink in – proving to the other person that you really did care about what he said.
Once the other person believes that you’ve heard him, you have a much better chance of influencing him.
What would you do?