Recently, I attended a reception at the women’s club where I’m a member. When I attend programs, I make it a point to circulate and talk, usually joining three or four tables over the course of an event. I’ve been fortunate to participate in dozens of conversations, meaningful and superficial, and I’ve formed some good relationships. When in conversation, ideally, I listen more than I talk. That ebb and flow is the subtle dance of communication.
When in conversation, learning to keep one’s mouth shut and ears open, so that you can focus attention on the person who is speaking, requires mindfulness and discipline. So often we do not really listen, we only pause, to formulate an answer that will help us win a debate or demonstrate expertise in the topic. Conversation can become a game of one-upmanship, when we’re more interested in being clever, or seeming to be very wise or au courant.
When you take the time to listen, the ego must be set aside as you signal the unique value of the other person by allowing him/her to express thoughts and feelings, insights and knowledge. You may appear to be passive but in reality, listening well is quite active. When we listen with intention, most of our senses are activated.
We watch facial expressions and detect happiness, distress, interest, or boredom in the eyes and mouth and even the posture. We hear the cadence of speech, the choice of words used and the tone of voice. In this way, we take in the story as it is told and we begin to understand the other person’s values, worries, joys, competencies and humor. Listening with conviction is the highest compliment that one can pay to another human being. When we listen, we get to know people and build relationships.
Careful listening also allows you to grasp what a person does not say and that could be very revealing. Hone your listening skills and learn to “listen between the lines,” so that you can more fully understand the motivations and perhaps hidden agendas of those with whom you interact. Listen and get a sense of who is telling the truth and who is hiding behind a facade. Whether you are in a negotiation with a client, interviewing a job candidate, or at dinner with someone you wonder if you should see again, listening well will guide your next steps.
Listening skills are a key ingredient of selling skills. Listen carefully to your prospect and learn what is most important to him/her and then describe how your product or service will resolve the need and eliminate difficulties. If you are a consulting professional who is interviewing with the hope of winning an assignment Dave Mattson, CEO and president of Sandler Training, the sales training firm, recommends that you get straight to the point and ask what three criteria define success for the project and then listen, and truly hear, the answer. You will quickly discover whether you are a good fit for the project and what you must say and do to win it.
Finally, listening allows you to adjust your style of communication to align with the person you are speaking with and that is an important part of building trust, demonstrating proficiency, telegraphing empathy and being persuasive. Those are the building blocks of both good relationships and effective selling. Your heightened listening will allow the two of you to speak the same language and that is the heart of effective communication.
Thanks for reading,