It is often said that former US President Clinton, was very effective at influencing people. The big question should be, how did he achieve this reputation? This seems too simple but it is said that his secret to success is simple: He gives everyone he meets his full, undivided attention.
Paying attention sounds easy enough, but few of us apply our full focus and attention when we interact with others. Our culture is one of distraction and multi-tasking. Our smartphones are always on and often interferes with our ability to completely engage with another person in an interaction. Research has shown that we check our smartphones every six and a half minutes. Alternatively stated, we give only one-third of our attention to the person with whom we are interacting.
A Harvard study conducted in 2010, found that we spend 47 percent of our waking hours thinking about something other than what we’re doing. There are many anecdotes about President Clinton gives his undivided attention to every person he meets. When I read these anecdotes, four (4) of his essential techniques resonated with me. However, you can read the original article here.
Here are my top four (4) anecdotes:
Attention is about empathy.During a 1992 presidential debate, President Clinton and George H.W. Bush were asked how the national debt affected them personally. The way the two politicians answered provided insight into their personalities. George H.W. Bush twisted the question to take the focus off himself, before muttering his way through an explanation of how price hikes “affect everyone.”
President Clinton walked over to the lady who asked the question, looked her in the eye, and asked her how the debt affected her. He explained how, as the governor of Arkansas, he’d seen the people in his state suffer, and how much of an impact it had on him. “In my state, when people lose their jobs, there’s a good chance I’ll know them by name,” Clinton said.
Attention can make the difference between a strong and a weak communicator. As a politician, President Clinton understood the difference between talking at people and talking to or with them. The Guardian’s Alastair Campbell called Clinton “the greatest political communicator I ever saw.” Paying attention was, and still is, his secret weapon — look no further than the debate video above for evidence.
People can tell when you’re actually listening to them, and they love it. It seems simple and obvious, but President Clinton built a career on doing what most politicians can’t or won’t do: connect with ordinary people, look them in the eye and listen to what they have to say. His ability to listen was instrumental in his ability to win people over. “All my life I’ve been interested in other people’s stories,” President Clinton wrote in My Life. “I wanted to know them, understand them, and feel them.”
Eye contact matters. Psychology Today calls eye contact the “strongest form of nonverbal communication.” And according to a University of Miami study, over 43 percent of the attention we focus on someone is devoted to their eyes.
During a 1999 interview with David Letterman, actress Gillian Anderson of “The X Files”) shared her belief that the secret behind Clinton’s sex appeal was “lingering eye contact.” On a rope line, it is said that when President Clinton gets to you, “he takes your hand and makes eye contact” and after moves on to the next person, he looks back at you and seals the deal.
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