How often have you engaged in a conversation and talked about a challenge you’re facing, and the person who is “listening” keeps jumping in with their suggested solution(s) before you have an opportunity to finish?
We’ve all been on both sides of the above scenario.
  • Conversations between friends
  • Meeting someone for the first time at a networking event
  • Being in a sales role in the discovery process with a potential customer or client
Being a good listener is probably one of the most important skills you can learn. When you open your ears and close your mouth, it gives you the ability to absorb much more information and BEFORE responding, look at the big picture.
That’s when you can use your expertise and experience to participate and provide helpful insight. And, if you genuinely don’t have the advice that would be helpful, don’t provide input that could lead the person in the wrong direction.
To follow are examples of how to engage in different situations.

Compassionate Without Being Controlling

We all want to help those close to us, but we’ve all been there; sometimes, they just want to vent. The worst thing you can do is immediately jump in when your friend is “letting it out.” Let it play out while still demonstrating that you’re there for them. If you listen, you’ll better understand their needs, and you’ll know when it’s time to offer help or continue to listen.

At a Networking Event

When you meet someone for the first time at a business function, you may be on edge, especially if you’re an introvert. You don’t know this person and are unsure how to strike up a conversation that could potentially lead to a potential customer, client, or future strategic alliance. Guess what? To make it easy, you don’t need to put much thought into how you want to open the conversation.

When you approach someone for the first time, introduce yourself by being brief. Give the person your name, the company you represent, and perhaps a SHORT description of your role. Then ask them questions about themselves. When they begin talking, it’s important to give them the time to respond. Don’t interject with your own stories or swing it back to talking about yourself. When people interrupt someone speaking, it demonstrates a lack of respect. There are other ways you can show engagement without talking:

  • Make eye contact and listen without fidgeting with your phone or looking around the room.
  • Ask follow-up questions that show you’ve heard what they have been saying. Don’t make the mistake of not really listening because you’re thinking about the next thing YOU want to say. If you take the time to listen, you’ll know what to say when there’s a break in speaking.

If you’re a salesperson trying to make a connection, even if you haven’t “done your spiel,” they will remember you for showing respect by making them feel important by listening. Listening to the challenge they may be facing in business will lead you to the solution you may be able to provide with your product or service.

How Will You Benefit From Being a Good Listener?
  • Will build stronger relationships
  • More focused on what's important
  • Ability to process information at a higher level

When you’re not trying to force a specific outcome, you are free to focus on the other person. And by keeping your head in the conversation without wandering, you’ll gain the mutual respect that will ultimately help you reach the desired result.

Whether you’re in a business setting or allowing someone close to confide in you, being a good listener takes practice. The better you get, the more opportunities will come your way.

Have you ever made an assumption about someone you’ve just met only to find out that you were totally off base? And, to make it worse, you made a decision based on that assumption that proved detrimental to that person?
Most of us like to think we’re a pretty good judge of character but think back to someone who you categorized as, for example, “unfriendly.” They may be someone you’re considering for a potential team lead position in your organization, and you need to ensure the company culture continues to be relaxed yet productive.

Despite their strong resume and experience, you automatically rule them out of the opportunity as when you first met, the person was a bit standoffish and didn’t laugh out loud when you showed signs of humor. Once you felt that “negative” vibe, you turned off any chance to be receptive to hiring that person.

Now think back, was that person that unfriendly, or was your brain quick to react because of preconceived assumptions? There are many reasons your “Spidey sense” went off. And, highly possible, it has nothing to do with the actual individual.
Some examples of why you reached that conclusion:
  • Did they remind you of someone you have confirmed, through experience, as cold or unfriendly (i.e., same mannerisms, same look, or tone of voice)?
  • Were you a bit too casual in your conversation, perhaps, since they didn't know your style and were nervous about letting their guard down? Especially when they're trying very hard to come across as professional?
  • Is it possible that you have already decided who you want in that position? Maybe the one you prefer reminded you of a friend, family member, or just someone you had an excellent initial connection. That's all good, but did you dive deeper into that person's experience and skills to ensure they're not only an approachable people person but someone who can perform at a high level in the team lead role?
  • Could that person be having a bad day? Did they recently experience a personal loss? Was a flat tire the way they started the day? Or was someone unnecessarily rude when they stopped to get their morning coffee?
The examples above are generalizations but happen every day and impact your first impressions of a person. If you are not opening yourself up to others and constantly assuming you know how others think and feel, you will find that you not only stop listening, you’ll make others feel less than they should. And you’ll never get to know someone who would be an asset professionally or even a potential future friend.

When you meet someone, spend more time listening than talking.

If someone seems a little reserved, especially during a career interview, take a step back to reduce the stress level, and ask questions that help them open up and then inject something about yourself, so they don’t feel as if it’s a “trick” question.
To follow are some examples of questions to initiate a relaxed conversation.

“What do you like to do on the weekend? I spent Saturday at the dog park, and Fido loved it.”

“How long have you lived in the area? I’ve been here about ten years and don’t miss the cold weather up north.”

Of course, you can come up with what works naturally for you, as long as you don’t get too personal. The goal is to take the time, mainly if the potential employee’s resume checks off all those boxes, to get to know the “real” person and not someone you’re making up in your imagination.
If those red flags are popping up in your brain, don’t ignore them. Just make sure to take the time to confirm whether they’re correct. This way, you don’t miss out on someone great.