“Listening is not brain science or child’s play,” says Alan. Gather round and listen up, this is something you need to hear…
Who doesn’t claim to be a good listener? Saying you are not a good listener is like confessing that you already know it all or that you don’t even care what anybody else has to say. Yet how many people actually make the effort to stop and listen and absorb someone else’s point of view?
It seems fairly obvious why we should listen – at the most basic level to obtain information – but sometimes other things just get in the way. For example at job interviews when the questions have become so predictable that we just fall into autopilot and fail to listen to either the question or the answer. Of course, this is a missed opportunity for both the interviewee and the interviewer but how do we escape this vicious cycle? It seems to me that a job interview should be more about your ability to interact and listen to each other than a verbalised version of your CV but is this how it is played out? Ultimately shouldn’t an interview be a measure of whether you have sufficient rapport to be able to work together?
From my experience the best interviews are usually conversations and therefore involve listening on both sides of the desk. A few years ago I had an interview where basically the interviewer talked about himself for an hour before briefly touching on the organisation and then finishing with the question “is there anything you would like to ask me?” Rather than asking for him to ask me a question, I came to the conclusion that if he couldn’t listen to me in an interview then chances are he wouldn’t listen to me in a work environment.
Listening is crucial for gathering information and building rapport yet we still struggle with it and the comprehensive list of courses online aimed at developing “good listening skills” would indicate there are plenty of people who acknowledge the need for its development. My problem with the offering online is that it tends to border on old-fashioned notions of telling people off to educate: Face the speaker! Pay attention! Shut up! For this reason alone I would much rather listen to someone speak about the art of listening. More of a show rather than tell approach…
At the EWO pilot programme Dick Mullender lead a series of exercises aimed at enhancing our listening skills and it was fascinating. For example we were instructed to have a conversation where one person was only allowed to respond using body language – remarkably it was possible, even if a little challenging. Next we were given the opportunity to reflect by adding the words “I get the impression you (like reading)…” Amazingly most people were happy to chat away and to tell you almost anything if you gave them the opportunity and a few prompts along the way.
Listening is not brain science or child’s play; it is not passive hearing or one-sided banter. It is meaningful, useful and beneficial to everyone… if only we would believe it.
PS If you are looking for an expert on listening it is hard to go past Dick. His years of hostage negotiating mean he has fined tuned his ability to listen and collect valuable information.
Our next couple of posts are going to focus on entrepreneurship and the value of a good idea… Catch you then!