Sunday, January 25, 2009

What Did You Say?

An old joke has two guys sitting in a bar. One guy says, "my wife says I don't listen to least I think that's what she said".

When you think about business meetings, substitute either gender and that joke is not far from the truth.

How many of us really listen in business meetings? How many of us are just waiting to talk?

We sit in meetings listening to someone drone on about a point we don't think is relevant and we know as soon as they shut up we will jump in with an absolutely brilliant point.

Sounds arrogant, but if we plumb the depths of our 'impatient listener' souls, we've all probably done that - more times than we'd care to admit.

So how do you become a better listener? By doing the Bill Clinton head-bob while other people talk, biting your lip and saying "I feel your pain". Nah. A good way to start becoming a better listener is to try the following exercise the next time you're listening to someone talk in a meeting:

  • Look at the speaker - not eye to eye - eye to face is fine. Just direct your eye focus toward them to the exclusion of everyone else in the room. If they are down at the end of a long table turn your torso toward them as well.
  • Be physically quiet while the other person speaks. This puts the spotlight on them, where it belongs and makes them the star. A subtle nod once in a while is OK - just make sure that any head movement is subtle and sparse.
  • If you're going to respond, wait till you think they are finished and then wait an extra beat to make sure they are really finished. Then talk. This is tough, especially when others in the meeting respond so quickly it makes it seem like the start of the Kentucky Derby...and they're off!
  • Build your response off of something they just said as in, "we reacted the same way as you did to the numbers, with disbelief, but we went back and took another look and here's what we found". This gives the other person tangible evidence that you just listened to them. It can be referred to as 'playing back' or 'reflecting back' what you heard. Whatever you call it - do it. It helps. A lot.

I realize these four tactics are not always doable in a world where the competition for airtime in a meeting is fierce. Think about it though. How many meetings have you been in where the smartest comment was made by someone who waited patiently, then made a 'spot-on' observation that wove all the threads of the meeting together? Often people remember those people and their comments more than the folks who practically leapt out of their seats competing to see how much air they could each suck out of the room.

The key is patience. It is a skill that needs to be strengthened through practice. Here's a simple hokey exercise you can do at home. It will eventually pay off with your clients and your colleagues - I promise. Here it is:

When you go home after a long day, plop down on the couch after dinner with your spouse, partner, family member or close friend and listen to them vent about their horrendous day. Then, see how long you can hold out without...

  • interrupting
  • judging
  • problem solving

To do the exercise justice, try holding out for ten minutes without doing any of the three things above. If the other person runs out of gas in their story, you are only allowed to say "so, what happened then?" - and then resume listening. Then you must recap what you learned to the other person and have them informally grade your comprehension.

It sounds easy, but it isn't. Just ask my wife how well I do at it. She'll probably tell you I'm still learning. When I offer this challenge to most men, they laugh. They know they will go home that night and never hold out for anything close to ten minutes. If you do this exercise it can help you discipline your ear to be patient - and it certainly won't hurt your relationship either.

Bottom Line

The best leaders listen well - the best salespeople listen well - and the best partners listen well. Be one of them. It doesn't take miracles. Just practice.

The Global Coach

No comments:

Post a Comment