06/14/2012 10:23 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

On Being Presidential

As you look at these five pictures, which of them look "presidential?"

Now granted these are just four pictures and obviously, they are taken out of context, I could have selected others and Republicans will take issue with what I say next...

However, I think part of being "presidential" is not what you say, but how you listen. I think presidential listening has four components:
  1. Listening - real listening is listening without an agenda other than to truly get what the other person is saying both in their words and in what they are not saying, but meaning by their word. Psychoanalyst Wilfred Bion described this as "listening without memory (an old agenda) or desire (a new agenda)."
  2. Comprehending - focusing on what they are saying and not saying and following what they intend to communicate
  3. Considering - thinking about what they are saying as free of your own filters and in its own right as possible
  4. Accurately understanding - grasping accurately what they are trying to communicate and possibly even why they are saying what they are saying and being empathic
  5. Responding - in a way that demonstrates to them that you have heard, comprehended, contemplated and accurately understood, which then earns you the right the respond and deserves their do the same with what you say
The pictures of Obama, Bill and Hilary Clinton and JFK communicate to me that they are are making an effort to do the first four of the above steps and have not yet responded. It has been widely said of Bill Clinton by many people that when you are in a conversation with him, you feel that he is totally focused on you. I believe that is because you feel he is doing the first four steps above.

The picture of Romney (again, I plead "no contest" to taking it out of context) matches a picture I too often have of him in my mind's eye. It is very similar to the picture of I have of many people from the financial industry. It feels like it has an agenda, which is not understanding what I am hearing and seeing, but rather how can I respond to what I am hearing in such a way as to make my point more convincingly. It appears to me that when you are in a conversation with Romney you don't feel that he listens without memory or desire or an agenda, or that he is comprehending, considering and accurately understanding you. In other words you don't feel like he "gets you," but rather feel that he trying to persuade you about something.

Leadership is less about persuasion than it is about influence. One of the things that most influences others is feeling listened to, comprehended, considered and accurately understood. One of the things that most turns others off is presuming to get where they are coming from without having made the effort to follow all those steps.

Years ago there was a trivial episode that happened to me that was one of the triggers to my writing, "Just Listen" Discover the Secret to Getting Through to Absolutely Anyone.

I was walking along Yale Street in Santa Monica, California, on my way to my office when I passed two bare-chested, more than slightly inebriated "surfer dudes," mowing their lawns in front of their adjacent homes. As I passed one, he blurted out: "Hark ye! Pray tell us the secret to peace on Earth in order that ye may pass!"

I kept walking. Little did they know that having trained FBI and police hostage negotiators and am frequently called upon by the television media to answer cold questions about breaking news items, I'm pretty quick on my feet. Within five seconds I was in front of the second neighbor, who had resumed his banter with his friend, whereupon I looked at both of them and said, "I have it! I have the secret to peace on Earth!"

They looked at me dumbfounded having already forgotten when they asked me and said, "What?"

I repeated, "I have the answer to your question about the secret to peace on Earth."

"Oh, yeah," the first neighbor replied.

"The secret to peace on Earth," I spoke out, "is to listen more than you talk."

They listened to me, then looked at each other and shrugged their shoulder deferentially and then the second neighbor said, "Ye may pass."