Think of another person’s receptivity as being on a continuum.
And the challenge is twofold: You need to lessen the intensity of low receptivity AND raise the mark on that continuum. Let’s explore a list of strategies for doing so:
1. Understand the influences. In the book Gentle Persuasion, author Dr. Joe Aldrich shares a helpful list of factors that influence a person’s receptivity. Let’s take a look:
o The existing loyalties of this person.
o The transitions facing the individual.
o The condition of the soil of this person’s soul.
o The nature and stability of this person’s relationships.
o The previous attempts to approach or invite this person.
o The caricatures that distort someone’s grasp of something.
o The nature and frequency of past contacts with this person.
o The circumstances under which someone learned something.
o The people that person has known and their influence upon him.
o This degree of satisfaction or lack thereof with this person’s life.
o The spot this person sits on the continuum between opposition and acceptance of something.
So, whomever your current interpersonal situation involves – customers, employees, colleagues – I challenge you to plug those people into these factors. Even if you have to map out a few of the answers, this exercise might help clarify the true nature of their reluctance.
Then, once you’ve considered these factors, here’s the next challenge:
First, recognize and respond to the uniqueness of each individual. Not ‘typing.’ Not ‘reading.’ Attending to. After all, ‘what you see when you see people’ has a powerful affect in how you approach them. And you need to make an effort to comprehend the other person’s view.
Secondly, reprogram this person’s experience bank with positive examples that prove old assumptions wrong. This helps evolve his attitude toward a more favorable state. Our next few examples will explore several strategies for handling these two challenges.
REMEMBER: You’ve got to be willing to do the research. To uncover the true nature of someone’s reluctance to be open to your ideas. Do you understand the influences on this person’s receptivity? What would you have to know about this person to approach her effectively? And what barriers to communicating freely and openly exist between you?
2. Listen first. Because approachability and receptivity are functions of reciprocity, the smartest step you can take is to actually listen, yourself. Sure, it’s a risk. Sure, it requires you to become vulnerable. But that’s part of the job description: Leaders go first. They ante up.
The challenge is to listen attentively, consider what is said and respond constructively and candidly. After all, approachability is much more that telling employees you have an Open Door Policy. Because they don’t care if you door is open – they care if your heart is open. And if your mind and EARS are open.
REMEMBER: Listening first increases receptivity because the other person is more likely to listen to you when he knows you’re listening to him. Are you monopolizing the listening or the talking? When was the last time somebody complimented your listening skills? And what would happen to your career if you became known as the best listener in your organization?
3. Preserve people’s self-esteem. The need to feel accepted is a driving force of human action. Your goal is to let people know that their thinking matters to you. To let them know you need them. To demonstrate that they’ve helped or inspired you. And to offer your attention TO and acknowledgment OF their contributions to your worldview.
What’s more, low receptivity is partly caused by unfulfilled personal needs. And when you’re not making a concerted effort to preserve people’s self-esteem, that gap will compete with you for their mind’s attention. Concentration on any other topic will become difficult. So, your challenge is to gratify people’s esteem need by making them feel essential, making them feel heard and making them feel like they contributed and participated in the decision making process.
Each of these practices can be accomplished in two words: ‘Take notes.’
Taking notes is proof. Taking notes keeps you mindful in the conversation. Taking notes honors someone’s thoughts. Taking notes is respectful. Taking notes increases someone’s self-esteem. Especially when you email them a copy of your notes five minutes after the conversation. By communicating that his ideas are important enough to write down, you raise receptivity.
REMEMBER: Raising receptivity requires clearing the other person’s mind so she is wiling to concentrate on the right things. How are you appealing to this person’s highest needs? What is the self-interest in this situation? And how receptive are YOU when people preserve YOUR self-esteem?
4. Lower emotional reactivity. Emotions block progress by reducing receptivity and impairing thought. In fact, the word ‘emotion’ comes from the Latin emotere, which means, ‘to disturb.’
So, be sensitive to signs of readiness and receptivity. If someone is highly emotional, that’s probably the WORST time to approach her with a concern, idea or assignment. Instead, wait it out. Let people breathe. Give them space to feel. Try asking, ‘When would be a good time to talk to you about something that’s important to me?’
REMEMEBR: Your goal is to encourage the full expression of emotions, dance in the moment and honor whatever surfaces. Is this the best possible time to approach this person with this idea? What emotions might block their receptivity? And are you giving people enough space to think, feel and BE?
5. Dig deep. Without probing unnecessarily, explore the other person’s mind. Draw him into the interaction. Now, don’t contaminate your probes by underscoring them with your own agenda and ideas. Your lack of objectivity will hinder their receptivity. Also, be careful not editorialize. Rewording what you interpreted the other person as saying might make your summary sound manipulative.
Further, as you’re probing, remember to delete the word ‘why’ from your vocabulary. Questions that begin with the word ‘why’ are dangerous because:
o WHY = Defensiveness.
o WHY = Seen as criticism.
o WHY = Internalized as a personal attack.
o WHY = Easily countered with ‘because.’
o WHY = Endless justifications and explanations.
o WHY = Answers that can only guess about the past.
Instead, use questions that begin with ‘What,’ ‘When’ or ‘How.’ This uncovers information, specification and motivation; instead of producing generalizations, rationalizations, justifications. That should help you dig down deep.
REMEMBER: Probing isn’t interrogating. It’s about discovery and honest curiosity about getting to the truth together. What words govern your questions? Are you (actually) asking a question, or just veiling a threat? And are you (actually) asking a question, or sneakily proselytizing your opinion?
6. Publicly celebrate mistakes. People are receptive to someone who has walked the walk, gotten lost a few times and found a way out. People are also receptive to those who are willing to speak of their own screw-ups. Why? Because you’ve PROVEN to others that you support failure. See, it is only when you’re willing to surrender to your own humanity that people trust you more. And the cool part is, the more you practice this, the less judgmental YOU become in the future when THEY screw up.
Try this: At your next sales or managers meeting, go around the room and require each person to (1) share a mistake they recently made, (2) offer three lessons they learned FROM that mistake, and (3) suggest the practical application of those lessons to the other people in the room. Then, later that week, create a hard copy of all the mistakes and lessons shared during the meeting. Staple a $20 bill to it and send it to everyone who attended. And what you do is, attach a sticky note that says, ‘Thanks for being human!’
REMEMBER: Act of humanity, honesty and vulnerability will draw out the other person. What’s more, you’ll raise receptivity, especially when it comes to welcoming performance feedback. When was the last time you rewarded someone for making a mistake? How are you branding your honesty? And how, specifically, are you integrating your humanity into your profession?
7. Receptivity is a function of relaxation. Ever met someone who came off as TOO friendly, TOO personal or TOO intense? Were you receptive to that person? Doubt it. After all, receptivity lowers when people become tense or suspicious about what’s coming up.
So, the secret is simple: Make communication a relaxing experience. A few ways to do so:
o Calm yourself down first. Before approaching (or being approached BY someone), try this. Treat yourself to five extra minutes – in your car, office, bathroom, wherever – for some deep breathing exercises. This lowers your blood pressure, decreases your heart rate and invites fresh oxygenated blood to circulate through your system. As a result, your posture, attitude and facial expression will emanate a relaxed, centered and approachable energy, this raising the receptivity of people in your presence.
o Give people space. Use pauses and silence strategically. These crucial moments give people time to learn, examine nuances and slow down. They also allow people listen to themselves, which, if they’re stress out, is exactly what they need.
REMEMBER: When you relax, they relax. And when they relax, their mind and body become more receptive to what you have to say. How are you making communication a relaxing experience? Who do you know that stresses you out just by looking at them? And how would your career be different if you became known as the most relaxed, calm employee at your company?
REMEMBER: You can’t make people listen to you.
You can only make an effort to raise their receptivity so your ideas have the highest probability of getting through and getting understood.