The Art of Listening

I recently had lunch with an outreach person at a senior living community. She was quite gracious and seemed to be a wonderful representative of the community. But as the luncheon transpired, I was reminded of a basic strategy of successful networking: the ability to listen.

Having years spent interviewing clients and their employees and residents, I’ve honed my listening skills. I’m always practicing but I want to pass along a few tips I’ve picked up.

All too often when we’re meeting someone new, it is tempting to talk about ourselves. It’s much more important to listen first and talk second. If you actually listen to someone, the conversation will flow. Interview questions that can be asked without a yes or no response are good conversation starters. People enjoy talking about themselves and you make a far better first impression if you learn more about them rather than talk about yourself.

When you are listening, it helps to restate what you’ve heard or at least think you’ve heard. This shows the person you’ve been listening and your conversation partner can clarify if you are off in your perception. Using the phrases, “Sounds like you are saying” or “What I’m hearing is,” are excellent ways of summarizing the conversation.

Put aside distracting thoughts and look at the speaker. It’s not necessary to be thinking of a rebuttal in the conversation or what you will ask next; just focus on what the speaker is saying and give them your full attention.

Try to read nonverbal cues. People’s body language often expresses their feelings. Crossed arms, leaning in or away, or a clenched fist are just a few indicators if a person is uncomfortable with where the conversation is heading. Use your own body language and gestures to convey your interest. Nodding occasionally in agreement and also smiling helps put a speaker at ease and illustrates your attention. Saying, “I understand what you mean” helps too.

Allow a speaker to finish their point and don’t interrupt or counter before they have finished what they are saying. We sometimes have this tendency to move the conversation along but it’s important they finish before asking questions.

Good listening should be to gain information and perspective. It’s not important for you to attack what they are saying, correct them or put them down. You may assert your opinions but you don’t want to make the speaker feel they are being corrected.

Effective listening takes determination and practice. But successful business development and effective business relationships require better communication skills. It’s well worth the practice.

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