Listening to Others

“Talk to people about themselves and they will listen for hours.”- Benjamin Disraeli, author and politician

Building on an earlier post about Asking Better Questions, it’s important to get others talking about themselves in order to better understand their interests, motives, and concerns. As a result, you will show empathy and build rapport, which leads to a better relationship and greater degree of influence with the person.

The second half of the equation is about listening in a way that demonstrates you genuinely care about their point of view. Done well, you will be inviting them to share more about themselves, and the result will be an even deeper connection during the conversation.

Listening Without Interrupting

When we are in social gatherings or just catching up with old friends, it is easy to stop listening and look for a break in the conversation so we can get our story or comment in. We tend to think about what we are going to say next and do not really listen closely to the other person. Signs of this are the habit of finishing someone else’s sentence, looking away, or giving various “hurry up” responses. We usually want to cap the other person’s story, which is not conducive to building rapport, particularly in the business world. The best thing to do is to listen without interrupting. Ask a question and allow time for a full answer. Do not jump right in with a comment. Give the other person the chance to say what they want and then provide insights into their guiding values.

Active, Not Passive Listening

Give the other person your full attention. You should hear and feel their whole message and its meaning, which includes their voice and body language. Make it clear that you are paying attention by giving feedback, using words of encouragement, and positive body language. This might include an occasional nod or restating back to the person the key points of their message. Maintain eye contact because people quickly pick up on signs of apparent distraction. These behaviours are a part of “active listening”, which is an effective skill in making the person feel important. In the end, if you can make someone else feel important they will feel closer to you and be prepared to talk more.

Understanding Experiences

What has the greatest impact on the way your colleagues make certain decisions in the workplace? It is their past business experience. This includes the companies they have worked for, their previous jobs and responsibilities, and even their former managers. Business experience is the sum total of everything that has gone before - the good and bad, the successes and disasters, the frustrations and achievements. Some will be talked about openly; others will be only half-acknowledged and remain beneath the surface. The key to understanding someone is to understand these past business experiences so that you can position requests, ideas, or initiatives in ways that are more easily accepted.

Effective probing and listening are the means for bringing these experiences out into the open. The deeper you are able to understand another person’s experiences and show that you understand them, the deeper a relationship you will develop. Once the person has opened themselves up on a personal level, they will be more accepting of your own thoughts, ideas, and recommendations - when the right time comes.