When I was starting out in my business career I was incredibly shy and rarely spoke unless directly spoken to, and then only reluctantly. Since I didn’t want to talk I didn’t need to be heard. So, instead of lining up to speak and not really hearing or understanding what other people had to say, I developed my active listening skills. These enabled me to better understand the situations and motivations of one person or a group of people. I focused on finding out where they were coming from, what they stood for and where they wanted to go.
Over time this meant I spoke more confidently because I had something meaningful to contribute to a situation or conversation.
This process of ‘active listening’ involves being consciously present and in the moment and able to take everything in.
I like the approach of fellow recruitment leader, Steven “Cash” Nickerson, President of US recruitment firm PDS Tech and author of ‘The Samurai Listener’ who compares the skills of active listening to those demonstrated by a martial arts practitioner who senses what someone will do next because they’re receptive and aware.
He suggests some practical tips to help you develop your active listening skills;
- Awareness: Start with basic awareness of the here and now. Don’t be distracted by what is on your phone or what you’re going to do later today.
- Reception: Be willing to receive new information. You may be present, but your mind can be closed. Let go of opinions, and be willing to drop your biases.
- Engagement: Being engaged involves back-and-forth approximately equal conversation like a tennis match.
- Understanding: Listen with the intention of interpreting what the other person is saying. Get into a place of understanding, where you’re both speaking the same language, figuratively and literally.
- Persistence: Be willing to stay the course and not let your mind wander. If you get bored and tired, push through to maintain your attention.
- Resolution: Bring the conversation to a close with takeaways and next steps. A good business conversation needs Action Points that are agreed.
- Emotions: Respect the existence of emotions and their roles. “Emotions can work for you or against you,” says Nickerson. “Recognize their roles and learn to discern them and their effect on your ability to hear others.”
- Senses: Employ your other senses to help you remember. Look for body language clues in the other person or people.
- Ego: Try to take your ego out of the conversation. A humble leader can listen more easily because they don’t correlate their ego with success.
- Nerves: Look for stress or tension; it can get in the way of being able to listen.
- Tempo: Get in touch with the rhythm of the speaker. Being out of sync with their way of talking can make it hard to listen.
These tips by Cash are worth adopting because active listening is a key business and leadership skill. Interestingly it is one that people who aren’t as outwardly confident and gregarious tend to be better at. I like that –a skill for the underdog!