I asked their name (a waste of time, due to the prominent name badge) and enquired about what brought them to the conference. I proceeded to ask more questions because I was curious.
For the next 10 minutes, I was able to discover this person’s motivations and a bit about their background and life.
I was then asked a typical question that I was happy to answer. “So what do you do?”
I started to reply, only a few words into my first sentence before I noticed that their eyes were glazed over and they were scanning the room.
We’ve all met those people.
Your impression of them plummets as you know they don’t care about you or are even faintly interested.
You can do two things. Persist or leave.
I exited stage right.
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The only person in the room
Occasionally we meet someone who makes us feel like we’re the only person in the room.
What’s the difference?
The soft skill of communication.
A simple but often forgotten practice. It’s not hard to do but its importance is lost in the ego. It’s a skill that is certainly not taught at school.
Bill Clinton was renowned for his charisma and engagement. When he was in conversation with someone the art of listening was on full display. He was not only able to achieve this “one-on-one” but he could also do it from the stage.
Focused active listening skills
What does that mean? Here are a few tips.
- Start with healthy, friendly eye contact (one way of helping you do that is to ask yourself the question ‘What is the color of their eyes?’). But be careful not to stare too much or they will think you are creepy.
- Ask open questions. Eg: What brought you to the conference?
- Clarify their answers with tentative feedback to see if you heard them and are sensing the feeling behind their answer. Eg: “So I am suspecting that you maybe don’t want to be here as it was just a demand from the boss?
- Listen for the response and if you hear words like, “absolutely” then you have nailed it. If you hear a phrase like “not really” then you have more to do.
- Refrain from getting distracted by making sure your internal chatter is not ready to take over the conversation. While you are thinking you are not listening. Active charismatic listening is about them and not about you.
There is a lot more to the skill of listening but if you can keep a person talking about themselves for 30 minutes and then they say “I don’t know anything about you”, you have succeeded at communication 101.
You have suspended your ego for half an hour and as I have learned “Your ego is not you amigo”
And that is a superpower.
Talking is overrated and listening is underrated. And this is why:
- It’s not taught at school.
- It is also something we often don’t learn from our parents.
- It is largely ignored
It is time to change and we need a listening revolution.
We need to change the game
The art of listening is often seen as a secondary skill to speaking or presenting. That game needs to be flipped. If we listened more there would be fewer wars and more understanding.
We have courses and organizations that promote talking like “Toastmasters”, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But maybe we need a movement that celebrates more listening and less telling.
It’s a superpower
How do you feel when someone listens to you and understands where you are and what you do? Special. Engaged.
- It is essential for nurturing personal relationships. Try applying good listening skills on a date and see what happens. You’ll have a much better evening and more sex.
- It’s vital for professional development. Listen to all the smart people in your office and ask questions and listen and learn.
- Salespeople that develop the skill of listening are some of the highest-paid employees on the planet.
- Learn by listening to your clients. They don’t care about the features of your product or service. They only care about what it will do for them. So ask them questions and quietly listen. Let the silence do the work.
I did a course on listening after observing my father’s talking skills for decades. It changed my life.
What does it take?
So what does it take to develop the communication skill that isn’t often taught or talked about?
It starts with self-awareness (you may discover that you talk too much) and then that allows you to be aware of others.
On the other side of that is a world of growing, engaged personal and business relationships that will open the doors to a world of opportunity.
It’s not about you, it is about them.
Start practising your listening skills today.