Most people reckon they’re a good listener. But too often we find ourselves hurrying others along, asking too many ‘own agenda’ questions, interrupting frequently and ending up irritated and short of answers. Ex-crisis and hostage negotiator Dick Mullender explains.
1. Know what you’re listening for
One reason for not having satisfying meetings or conversations with the boss, the team or a client is that we haven't actually stopped to think about what we’re listening for. The secret is to understand the other person’s values, especially if they’re ‘difficult people’. Find out what matters to them and how can you tap into it. If you listen properly, you’ll find out very quickly what makes that person tick and what they need from you. The skill is in the interpretation, yet we’re often too busy planning the next question, applying our own judgement or following our own agenda – we don’t take note of what’s really being said or the meaning of it. Alastair Creamer, co-founder of Eyes Wide Opened explains: 'If you find out their values, you’re more likely to gain their trust.'
2. Understand motivation
We can be guilty of imagining that everyone has the same values as we do. We’re great gatherers of information, but often useless at turning that information into intelligence. We take shortcuts to make our lives easier. We make huge assumptions about what people really mean. Try this: write down what you mean by the word ‘interesting’ and then ask six other people do the same thing. Notice how different the definitions are.
3. Let them talk
Don’t continually ask questions, jump in with advice or, in a negotiation, give yourself away. Use killer opening lines and be patient (and clever) enough to let them keep talking. Our language and tone (not our body language) is what quickly betrays us. Useful ‘hooks’ will begin to appear and layers of important information will emerge. In a tricky negotiation you need access to the other person’s mindset without their knowledge. Only then can you really start to influence their actions. It’s good listening, not speaking, that allows you to be the most persuasive in the end.
Listening well is tough. A wise listener builds more productive relationships with colleagues, solves problems more quickly, and understands assignments better. And elite-level listening doesn’t just equip you to have more productive conversations in business, it equips you for most practical and emotional challenges in life.
Dick Mullender teaches listening at Eyes Wide Opened and runs his own listening training business for corporate and executive education clients. He was lead trainer at the National Crisis and Hostage Negotiation Unit, Scotland Yard, and has trained staff at the Met Police, the UN and the FBI.