Why is it that so many meetings, negotiations and everyday conversations are so frustrating? Why didn’t you emerge with the result you needed or manage to persuade others to do what (you thought) you were asking for?
It’s all in the listening. Most people will say they’re a good listener. The reality is that, with a tight agenda and too little time, we hurry others along, ask too many questions, interrupt frequently, and wind up irritated and short of answers. We’re often just biding our time in meetings until we can get our own point across. We all do it, but rarely admit to it.
Know what you’re listening for
The problem is that most people don’t know what they’re listening for from the other person in order to get what they want from them.
The secret is to understand the other person’s values, especially if they’re “difficult people”. Find out what matters to them and how you can tap into it. Alastair Creamer, career coach and co-founder of Eyes Wide Opened, argues that our values influence every significant decision we make, whether we realise it or not.
If you listen properly, you’ll discover very quickly what makes that person tick and what they need from you. The skill in doing this is in the interpretation of what is being said, yet we’re often too busy planning the next question, applying our own judgement, or following our own agenda to do this properly – we don’t take note of what the other person is really saying or the meaning of it.
We can be guilty of imagining that everyone has the same values as we do. We’re great gatherers of information, but often useless at turning that information into intelligence. We take shortcuts to make our lives easier. We make huge assumptions about what people really mean. Try this: write down what you mean by the word “interesting” and then ask six other people to do the same thing. Notice how different the definitions are.
Let them talk
Don’t continually ask questions, jump in with advice or, in a negotiation, give yourself away. Use killer opening lines and be patient (and clever) enough to let them keep talking. Our language and tone (not our body language) is what quickly betrays us. Useful “hooks” will begin to appear and layers of important information will emerge. In a tricky negotiation, you need access to the other person’s mindset without their knowledge. Only then can you really start to influence their actions. It’s good listening, not speaking, that allows you to be the most persuasive in the end.
Change the question
In interviews, turn things around: ask the interviewer what success would look like for them in six months if you were hired, so that you can decide whether it’s a job you really want. Ask questions that give you answers you need, like “what do you need from me so that I fit in here?” and then ask yourself “how can I turn that piece of information into intelligence to assist me?”.
Listening well is tough. A wise listener builds more productive relationships with colleagues, solves problems more quickly, and understands assignments better. And elite-level listening doesn’t just equip you to have more productive conversations in business, it equips you for most practical and emotional challenges in life.