May 12, 2015

You need to connect first to influence

As I was walking to my car late yesterday afternoon, I noticed a man in Martin Place shouting quotes from the bible. Walking back and forth, holding his bible high, he pleaded with us, commanded us, bellowed for us to listen to his message. His voice was cracking from his exertions, yet no one stopped to hear it. People just looked away, rushing past as quickly as they could. 

While extreme, this was by no means an isolated incident. We see variations of this theme all the time in work and life. People seeking to push their ideas or agenda onto others without checking first to see if the message is being received.

Humans are inherently social beings. If you want to be heard, you first need to connect. 

As neuroscientist Matt Lieberman illustrates in his book, Social, Why Our Brains are Wired to Connect, human beings need social connections. This is as important to our survival as our need for food and shelter. Social ties increase our happiness, health and well-being, while social rejection leads to a pain response in the brain.

But to connect, we need to actually slow down, even stop to make the effort. Our friend in Martin Place never stopped moving long enough to notice if anyone was listening. His voice will probably give out before he stops. 

When we are at rest, the brain activates a default network that is similar to the one we use for thinking about ourselves and other people. What is called "social thinking". In other words, when the brain takes time out of your busy day, it goes social and thinks about other people. 

For managers and leaders whose primary responsibility is to motivate and engage people, taking time out to engage in social thinking and connecting is even more critical. One catch - given how busy our days are, how can we find that time to connect?

It's actually not that difficult. It just requires being more aware of what you say and how you say it. To foster more connection before speaking, try these four steps. They will help you connect more and ensure your message is heard.


  1. STOP! Literally, stop moving long enough for your mind to slow down and step away from the action.
  2. Breathe. Take a few breaths to slow down your pulse and let your brain shift into that default mode.
  3. Look at the other person. Actually look them in the eyes and take a moment to connect with them. This isn't the same as getting weird and overly personal. Just simply look at them and connect.
  4. Consider what you want to say and then how they need to hear the message. How do you need to deliver the communication so that it leads to a positive and productive result for both of you?
By taking the time to connect and think about the other person, you'll find that your ability to be heard and influence others will increase - potentially dramatically, depending on how connected you've been up to now.