In a coaching session with a senior executive last week we were exploring his frustration at not being able to influence the CFO at his company. His aim was to gain support from the CFO for a couple of his ideas for capital expenditures that he believed would dramatically help grow the business. He told the story of a series of email exchanges that occurred, each one expressing the CFO’s resistance and adding to my client’s frustration. “I’ve doubled the business in the past two years.” He said, “Why can’t he trust me and see this is a sound business decision and necessary for continued growth?”

I asked three simple questions, “What’s the resistance?”, “What does he want?” and “Have you picked up the phone and had a real conversation with him?”

One of my favorite quotes comes from Stephen Covey and is so simple yet challenging to put into practice, “Seek first to understand, ­then be understood!”

Often, we are so focused on getting what we want out of a conversation we forget to ask questions to understand what the other person wants.  We get so focused on defending our position that we fail to have a true two-way conversation.

Many leaders forget that the cost of being a poor communicator has a serious ‘trickle down’ effect on their team. Think about the above example…if this leader is not able to ‘win with’ the CFO to come up with a workable solution, the team doesn’t get the equipment they need, which makes their jobs harder in trying to meet customer demands, which means they may become overworked and disgruntled, and they might lose customers, and…well you get the picture.

Studies have shown that companies with highly effective communications are three and a half times more likely to significantly outperform their industry peers than firms that are not effective. (Towers Watson 2013-2014 Change and Communication ROI Study Report)

The ‘Winning With’ Approach:

The next time you are in conversation try this:

  • Repeat in your own words what you think the other person is saying to ensure you have really understood their perspective
  • Ask what the other person’s perspective is on what you are proposing and ask them to poke holes in it or share another/different way to look at it
  • If you are hearing resistance to your idea, get curious, ask questions and lean into the resistance
  • Listen more than you speak
    • Listening fosters openness, respect and trust

Most of us are highly committed to our own ideas and perspective. Next time you feel the urge to ‘wage war’ and defend your position, stop, take a breath, and ‘seek to understand’. By focusing on ‘winning with’ you are taking part in true two-way conversations. You are communicating to the other person that they matter, that you are interested in them and their perspective, and ultimately that you care.

Strong conversations, where we explore resistance and perspectives, lead to stronger influence because we understand what’s really important and address the real issues.