I had one of those conversations today. You may have had one like this. It started out when a potential client asked a simple question that I really connected with. Before I knew it, I was knee-deep in the topic and, I must say, I was becoming increasingly impressed with my ability to wade through the muddy waters toward the high ground of enlightenment. Fortunately, this was a face-to-face conversation, because at some point it dawned on me that I was alone by the time I approached the far shore. My partner in conversation appeared to be slipping out of consciousness. I had ignored some key rules of “engagement” and now we might both pay the price.
I know I’m not the only one who has done this. During the past few years, dozens of clients have expressed the desire to “engage” people; leaders want to engage their teams, sales managers want to engage potential customers, and governments wish to engage the public, stakeholders and partners. The reasons are many. While engaged, people absorb concepts, make connections and contribute ideas. The organization benefits from the increased brainpower itself, but also from increased connection and commitment toward the entity they are collectively building.
Engagement can be understood with some basic brain physiology. When you are conscious, your brain can be in one of two states, “alpha” or “beta”, depending on its energy levels. Conveniently, there is also a switch called the “reticular activating system”. When the woman in my story started to drift, her brain was slipping into alpha, just as your computer will do if you don’t touch the keys for a while. Now, alpha is fine for mundane tasks, but I was hoping to make an impact with my ideas, perhaps even make a sale. When I realized what was happening, I paused, used her name and asked her a question about her experience with the topic. This prompted the reticular activating system, which jolted her brain back into beta state. Her brain was now meeting the challenge of functioning at a higher level. She was re-engaged.
When you have a message to deliver or information to obtain, you can engage your communications partners by getting them into beta and keeping them there with some of the following activators:
1. Use their names.
2. Ask questions and get them speaking. (Research has shown that when a person has spoken once in a meeting, they are much more willing to speak subsequent times.)
3. Present problems for them to help solve.
4. Change your voice tone or volume.
5. Using eye-catching visuals and colours in presentations.
7. Change the environment or the pace (e.g., fresh air).
Every successful partnership, relationship or simple conversation depends on one key element: the complete intellectual and emotional engagement of all the parties concerned. Approach it deliberately and you can achieve high engagement with all of your communications partners.