Becky Heavner, MLA Blog

Influence

Often we unknowingly influence others by our mere presence, by what we do–or the strength of words. A few days ago, I sat in a university workshop listening to a retired lawyer share ideas about critical discussion. “In the classroom,” he said, “we rarely teach students how to listen. People believe conversation is about sharing this and that. One person says one thing, and then another person says something else.” He explained how he teaches his students to listen, and build upon what is said by first addressing the previous comment. And then, when some sort of conclusion has been made, the students are allowed to move on and change the subject. His words stuck in my mind and I thought of the importance of this statement.

Later I was listening to a neighbor explain a message he has shared for 40 years with his team. His words held power over my attention. He said, “Make a science of what you do, and then make an art of presenting it.” As I marveled in the beauty of this statement and all that it could mean, he explained how he deconstructs conversation into potential options and identifies which options are an opportunity to influence a specific outcome. He asked me, “Whose responsibility is it to make sure ideas are understood? Is it the person telling–or the person listening?” I said it was both. He disagreed and said it was the responsibility of the person telling to make sure ideas are understood in the way they are intended.