Years ago, I was in graduate school. A professor stopped me after class and said, “Do you know how much influence you have in this group?” I did not. A highly regarded consultant approached me after a small group conversation and said, “Do you know how much of a leader you are in this group?” I did not. At a reunion of the class one year later, one of the field’s eminent scholars said, “I was very impressed with your contribution in our meeting. Do you know what a difference it made?” I didn’t. I did not know what an impact I was having, or why.
And yet I when I tried too hard to have an impact, when I wanted to persuade someone to adopt my brilliant idea, or to inspire a team to go in a different direction, I was actually having the opposite effect.
I over-prepared my arguments. I used logic and facts and reason. I thought it through, over and over. I would build my case so well, and feel with great frustration that my colleagues just did not seem to understand what I was saying. Finally, after a particularly hard meeting, the leader told me “I don’t think it’s that they don’t understand – I think it’s that they don’t agree with you. You left no room for that possibility nor were you interested in finding out why.” I simply did not allow anyone else to speak up.
That was my wake-up call. When I was in my own head, trying to make my points, with all my rational, intellectual and scientific facts, I closed down to what was happening around me. My mind was made up. I stopped listening.
Reflecting on those situations now, I realize that when others had acknowledged my impact, I’d said and done very little. I was part of the group, listening and observing, when something boiled up in my gut – an increasingly strong feeling that could not be ignored. Finally, sometimes even hesitantly, I had to say something. The conversations shifted; the atmosphere was altered; I had influenced the direction.
I was learning to have impact with intention.
Intention begins by listening, consciously listening to others. When I am open, others’ points of view help to clarify my own. When I investigate what others’ mean or intend, I respond authentically and clearly. I speak from my heart, from what I know and what I desire. That, I realized, was what I was doing when I was successful.
It’s easy to listen and share what I believe. It’s hard to defend and prove my point at all cost.
It’s good to know that it’s easy to have more impact – with intention.