Irrespective of our profession, most of us are in effect selling something (including ourselves) to someone or in other words persuasive skills are almost a necessity. And persuasion is not simply about smooth talking your idea over but also to be able to listen well to appreciate what you can say that can actually influence the other person. This piece in The Economist talks about the importance of this often under-appreciated and sometime misunderstood skill through the experience of a former hostage negotiator, Richard Mullender, who has set up what he calls the “Listening Institute” to help businesses use his skills.
“Mr Mullender defines listening as “the identification, selection and interpretation of the key words that turn information into intelligence”. It is crucial to all effective communication.
Plenty of people think that good listening is about nodding your head or keeping eye contact. But that is not really listening, Mr Mullender argues. A good listener is always looking for facts, emotions and indications of the interlocutor’s values. And when it comes to a negotiation, people are looking for an outcome. The aim of listening is to ascertain what the other side is trying to achieve.”
….The mistake many people make is to ask too many questions, rather than letting the other person talk. The listener’s focus should be on analysis. If you are trying to persuade someone to do something, you need to know what their beliefs are. If someone is upset, you need to assess their emotional state.
Of course, a listener needs to speak occasionally. One approach is to make an assessment of what the other person is telling you and then check it with them (“It seems to me that what you want is X”). That gives the other party a sense that they are being understood. The fundamental aim is to build up a relationship so the other person likes you and trusts you, Mr Mullender says.
The pandemic has meant that most business conversations now take place on the phone or online. Precious few in-person meetings occur. Some might think this makes listening more difficult; it is harder to pick up the subtle cues that people reveal in their facial expressions and body language.
But Mr Mullender says that too much is made of body language. It is much easier to understand someone if you can hear them but not see them, than if you can see but not hear them. He prefers to negotiate by telephone.
….The lockdown has increased the need for managers to listen to workers, since the opportunities for casual conversation have dwindled. Mr Mullender thinks that many people have become frustrated in their isolation, which can lead to stress and anger. He thinks there may be a business opportunity in helping managers listen more efficiently, so they can enhance employee well-being. After a year of isolation, many workers would probably love the chance to be heard.”

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