Imagine if your job was designed to help influence policy, and in doing so, you would need to understand how to change minds and how to influence decisions. Now, imagine that you were doing this job and 83% of the people were not happy with the job you were doing. If that number doesn’t startle you, try this one: Imagine only 5% of the people described your work as good, and a mere 1% described it as excellent. This is the condition our congress finds itself in right now, and they don’t seem very worried about it. If your representative in Congress is supposed to be representing your views and opinions, it is indeed troubling that only 24% of our nation believes their own elected representative is the right person for the job.
The inability of Congress to create trust provides a terrific teaching moment for us all. If you want to learn How NOT to Gain Trust, here are two surefire ways to accomplish that goal:
Make Sure Not to Ask Questions
When it comes down to learning how to influence others, the oldest lesson in the book continues to be in the art of asking questions. This is not an instinctive behavior, but it can certainly be a learned behavior. How well do you think our Congress does at actually asking questions? We’ve had more than one member of Congress who have been heavily criticized for carefully asking questions of the American people through polling, and then trying to support various policies that reflect the will of the people. I don’t believe that every policy should be decided by poll numbers, but a politician who asks questions of his or her constituency should be commended for asking for opinions, rather than frowned upon for doing it!
Make Sure Not To Listen
If asking questions is the oldest lesson in the book, then listening is the second oldest lesson in the book. Let me ask you this: When you turn to any political discussion on any of the major networks, what grade would you give the candidates you are observing on their listening skills? Are they interrupting each other? Are they jumping into the conversation as if to make their point before the host or other guest is finished making their point? I only ask because my polling numbers tell me those are the two most annoying listening habits to avoid.
What good is asking a question if you aren’t going to listen to the response? Furthermore, if you aren’t actually listening to those you are trying to influence, how do you think this will impact their ability to listen to you?
Some years ago, Xerox conducted a poll of its own involving thousands of its clients. The clients were asked a rather simple question. “There are only three ways our salespeople can communicate with you; to ask questions, to listen, and/or to make statements. Would you please stack rank these three actions in order of priority, indicating how you would like our people to communicate with you?”
The response was not all that shocking, but at least we can statistically prove what many of us already know. “Asking questions” and “listening” were almost inseparable, and both tied for number one. Xerox could not find anyone who prioritized “making statements” as number one on his or her list. I guess there just aren’t a lot of people who prefer being approached and told statements; they would prefer to be listened to, by being asked questions.
I think we’re all fed up with how ineffective Congress is, and it’s a shame those we elect aren’t given mandatory training on how to ask questions and listen. If they did, I’m quite certain their approval ratings would quickly improve, and we would all benefit from this new approach. They would regain the trust of the people.