Active listening could be the most important skill you didn’t know you needed. In a business setting, having the right information is crucial. A small piece of information could be the difference between making a sale or closing a deal and failing. Studies suggest that we only remember between 25 and 50 percent of what we hear in conversations. Often this is because we are not paying attention. We already considering our next move or formulating a response.
We convince ourselves that negotiations are about our power to persuade. And in some ways that is true. But persuasion requires understanding. You can’t convince someone when you don’t know their position. So how do we learn to listen better?
Active listening is a skill that allows you to go beyond hearing the words the speaker is saying. It allows you to also take on board and understand their message. It involves practicing some active engagement techniques. Then focusing on these during the conversation. We asked Justin Cobb for some techniques that we use right now, in our next conversation.
The first step is to practice giving your undivided attention to the person speaking. This means looking at them, and taking in what they are saying. If you find yourself preparing an argument or response, set it aside, and return to listening. You may find yourself distracted by a side conversation or your phone. Take a moment to acknowledge the distraction, and return to listening.
Use body language to encourage communication, and show that you are listening. You might nod along, or make a facial expression to react to elements of what is being said. Verbal feedback can also help. Encourage the speaker with some words showing that you are listening.
Take a moment before you respond, to summarise what you heard, and make sure you understand it. Paraphrase what the speaker said, saying something like, “It sounds like you’re saying x… is that right?” Then ask questions to clarify any points you don’t understand. “What do you mean when you say x?”
Now that you have listened to the speaker, you have the tools to respond to their complete message. You may find yourself having a different response than you may have had before. Because now you have the complete message. You are now in the powerful position of being able to form a convincing counter-argument. You may even understand that you don’t need one at all.