Gaining Influence through Listening - Ideas for Leaders
Idea #077

Gaining Influence through Listening

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We can process language at 300 to 500 words per minute; however, most people speak around 100 words per minute. The extra brain capacity makes it difficult to manage our attention: Listening is difficult. It’s a discipline and a skill and those who have it are more likely to conduct influence, to persuade, and negotiate successfully. Here’s why you need to, and how you can: gain influence by listening


Gaining and retaining influence will forever be a vital component of leadership and this Idea shows that listening has a positive association with influence, over and above verbal expression.

"We can process language at 300 to 500 words per minute; however, most people speak around 100 words per minute. The extra capacity makes it difficult to manage our attention: we get distracted."

Data was collected from 274 students enrolled in an MBA program, in which as part of their course requirement, participants were rated on a variety of dimensions by several former co-workers. Those co-workers were asked to assess the students’ skills and habits, with questions measuring how influential the students were, such as whether they were able to persuade others, direct meetings, and turn conversations in their favour. They were also asked to evaluate the students on expressive communication, and asked how skilled the students were as listeners.

The results were as follows: firstly, people’s listening tendencies are positively related to influence, over and above the impact of verbal expression. Secondly, in addition to their main effects, listening and verbal expression interact, such that the positive relationship between listening and influence is shown more strongly by those higher in verbal expression. Finally, listening partly mediates the relationships between each of openness and agreeableness and influence.

Good listeners are better communicators, and good communicators make better leaders.


Though there are no real secrets to being a better listener, as with any discipline or skill, there are behaviours that you can take efforts to change. As such, here are a few suggestions for influential listening:

  • Don’t follow your instincts: or rather, don’t always follow your instincts. Listening can be most valuable when it clashes with your instincts and impulses, for example in a conflict, when someone is disagreeing with you and you don’t want to hear them out, that is exactly when listening is most useful.
  • Capture your own attention: listening is difficult in part because we have a lot of brain capacity. We can process language at 300 to 500 words per minute; however, most people speak around 100 words per minute. The extra capacity makes it difficult to manage our attention and instead, we get distracted. Put that extra capacity to work by, for example, making more effort to draw out your counterpart through questions, or to organize in your own mind the points they are making.
  • Stop interrupting: for just one week, every time you want to cut off another person and forge ahead with your own point - wait. Instead, ask a question, which is a way to reflect on your habits and get more out of others by understanding their points more completely.
  • But don’t be quiet: good listening is not measured by how quiet you are. Elicit information, ask questions, make direct eye contact, and perhaps most importantly, don’t engage in other activities while you claim to be listening.
  • Implement:  the real litmus test is what you do after the conversation. The most persuasive thing a manager can do is to implement what people are saying. The rule should be that as long as others’ recommendation is not worse than what you as a manager would do, then act on their suggestion.



The Role of Listening in Interpersonal Influence. Daniel Ames, Lily Benjamin Maissen & Joel Brockner. Journal of Research in Personality (February 2012). DOI: 10.1016/j.jrp.2012.01.010


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Idea conceived

February 1, 2012

Idea posted

Jan 2013
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