Monday, February 2, 2009

Impressing vs. Influence

When you are speaking with someone, do you aim to Impress or Influence? This may be more subconscious rather than conscious.

One definition of Impress is "to create a favourable impression; draw attention to oneself" Actually, impressing someone is not a bad thing. You are created a favourable impression! However, if your sole aim is to Impress, and you come across trying to do so, it will backfire.

The definition of Influence is "the power to affect people, actions or events". Which state is more powerful?

I had a first hand experience of speaking to someone who was trying to impress, and it left a bad taste in my mouth. One day, after my workout at the gym, I bumped into an ex-colleague of mine, KW. I had not seen him for a few years, and was interested to learn more about how he had been.

He shared with me that he was working in the same building as the gym, and that he was now holding the post of Regional Financial Controller for a multinational corporation. Fairly impressive title! He seemed encouraged by my enthusiasm. "I am with a Japanese company. In fact, I just returned from Japan, and travel up to 4 times a year. I also spend about half my time traveling to other regional cities, such as BangKok and Chennai."

He then launched into giving me a low-down on his personal travel schedule, whereby he traveled to Spain and Vietnam last year. And in fact this year, he had made plans have a holiday in Europe.

Our conversation consisted of his monologue interjected with my polite comments and questions. It took less than 10 minutes for me to be bored and for me to label him 'not worth expanding effort to keep in touch' When I found a suitable pause, I mentioned that I would be heading up for my shower. He suggested that he pass me his namecard when he gets it from the locker. I suggested he add me as a Facebook friend instead. Its much easier!

What happened? Shouldn't he have come across as a well-traveled executive who has varied personal travel stories? Why did he come across as trying to impress rather than me being influenced to want to keep in contact with him?

There is another definition of Impress: "to apply with pressure, make a permanent image in" Yes, if you try too hard to impress, you can end up making the other person feel pressurized and cause a permanent image of yourself as a "try-too-hard-to-impress" in the other person's mind!

Here are 2 common mistakes made when people try to hard to impress:

Mistake No. 1 Incongruent Facial Expressions and Tone of Voice

When you are trying to impress, you are not Natural. Your body gives away cues that it does not come from natural enthusiasm and joy of sharing. KW spoke in a very monotonous way. His face did not light up with enthusiasm when he spoke. I actually toned down my energetic way of speaking when I was with him, to match his energy level. There was a disconnect. I felt as if he was trying to put together the most impressive things that he could think of, so that I would be wowed. If he was enthusiastic, he would have influenced me with his joy of business and personal travels.

Mistake No. 2 No (few) questions asked

He did not know how to be a team player - Good conversation is a team sport KW did not ask me any questions. Its left me feeling that he was not genuinely interested in connecting with me, but rather impressing me with how great/smart/lucky/successful he is. I did not enjoy the experience at all.

Even if you do ask questions, but if you come across as not genuinely listening to the other person's answers, before launching into more stories about yourself, the other person will still find that you are trying to impress.

3 Tips for Influencing beyond Impressing

1. Aim to impact, not impress

2. Be memorable

If you come across to impress, you give the other person the sense that whatever you have mentioned is equivalent a Movie Highlights Trailer. That means all the most interesting, impactful, nuggets of information is already in the Trailer. There is nothing more interesting left.

3. Be a good listener

I would recommend that you share 30% of the time, and let the person speak 70% if you want to be memorable. Only then can you gather enough information to impact and influence.

A Final Story

Let me leave you with this story I heard about two motivational speakers addressing a crowd at a conference:

The first speaker was IMPRESSIVE! He regaled the crowd with his personal success stories, his wit and charm. The audience went "What a GREAT speaker!"

The second speaker then rose to speak. The crowd was silent when he began. It then proceeded to be an hour long of gasps, tears then glowing smiles. The audience went "I think I have what it takes to be truly GREAT."

The second speaker wielded his INFLUENCE.

Which speaker is more powerful?

When you impress: People may look up to you, but there may be a feeling of disconnect as you have succeeded where they have failed or not achieved anything at all.

When you influence: People are inspired to take action. They be inspired to go where you want them to go. There will be an immense feeling of connection and gratitude. Their connection with you is alot more sustainable.

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