What did I just say?!
My father passed away 12 years ago. There was an inane conversation that sticks in my craw to this day. It was the day of Dad’s funeral and I stopped at a convenience store to pick up some breakfast items for out-of-town family staying at my mother’s house. The clerk behind the counter asked how I was that day. Bleary eyed, I replied that I was very sad; that my father had died and I was attending his funeral in an hour. Her remark? “Well, have a nice day!” Twelve years later it irks me.
In college I minored in communications. One of my classes had us experimenting with listening. My friend (and classmate) and I went to a birthday dinner party at the home of a graduate student we knew. The host greeted us at the door. We purposely arrived one hour late and while my friend stayed out of sight, I said, “I’m sorry to be so late! On the way over, we hit a train and Tracy is dead.” The host, deep in his world of birthday boy and center-of-attention-universe replied, “Well, I hope Tracy can come to the next one.”
There is a premise I (we all) should take to heart as an unfortunate given. Realty check is that people are more interested in themselves than in you. If folks think that you are there to give a rehearsed discourse, spew self-absorbed dialogue, or to monopolize the conversation, their interest in you quickly wanes.
Listening is power
Those who listen well have a talent to share with the world. I believe that total listening is a finely honed art. If you are a great listener, you hold yourself like a dangling pendant while you tune in to all the signals you are receiving from the other person. You confine your thoughts, to keep from rehearsing what you are going to say next, to repress all links you may feel between what the other person is saying and your own perspective or experience.
If you are really an effective listener, you wait quietly while the other person finishes talking. Then you collect your thoughts for a response. You not only absorb what is being said, but are able to paraphrase back what the other has said with such a clear understanding of the content and feeling of the speaker’s message that the speaker could recognize it, perhaps even more succinctly than the original words.
Most of us have had someone in our lives who was that kind of listener. Someone who listened like we were the most important person in the world. And it touched our happy chord! The fact is, that people who are good listeners have a real edge in the job search and work world. Listening is one of the most powerful tools there is to gain trust and in turn, trust-based relationships.
Look, listen and land
Sometimes landing in a new job comes from listening outside the formal interview. It happened to my client, Pat. He loves motorcycles! When he was 18, he hung around John Doe’s motorcycle shop every Saturday for nearly a year, asking questions about the business, the customers, and their buying habits. Mr. Doe started opening up to Pat about customer issues, returns that were chronic, the kinds of complaints that seemed to rear up more often than wanted, even arguments that had occurred. Mr. Doe spoke of a few customers who even got physical. Pat proposed to Mr. Doe that he, an avid motorcyclist and natural-born mediator and relationship farmer, could handle many of these customers. He could relate to them; he had grasped the issues and had confidence to deal with customer service. He got the job on a part-time basis. Today, he is Mr. Doe’s business partner.
Look, listen and learn
We love to be heard and understood.
Try your own informal experiment. Try being a fly on the wall to see how you and others listen. Pay attention to it in all situations from interviews, to networking, to informal conversations. Let’s take interviewing. Remember that reality check? If given the chance, many interviewers would probably prefer to talk about themselves, their dreams, fears, hassles and bragging rights. Of course, they’re supposed to listen to you. So I would think that if you listen carefully to what they say, add thoughtful questioning, and allow their needs to be part of the conversation, well; how could this possibly be a negative? And how much could you learn from leads and contacts by listening? How about those in charge at places? Those who know people in charge at places? Listening actually becomes a charisma. There’s that trust thing again. That warm fuzzy.