Monday, January 26, 2009

In a world of information, listening is a vital tool

Jeffrey Immelt, the chairman and CEO of General Electric, recently described our new president as an aggressive listener and someone who doesn't just go through the motions, but who listens to learn.

Listening is not just for winning presidential campaigns; it's also one of the most important communication skills for business success.

We live in a world of information overload. We just can't get comfortable with silence. Yet, being patient while another person talks is a fast way to establish and build trust.

People instinctively know when the listener simply postures and goes through the motions of listening without actually taking in what is being said. They also know when a listener is physically alert so that he or she can concentrate and actively focus on what is being said.

If you're in the habit of thinking about what you want to say while someone else is speaking to you, it's time to learn to listen.

One way to increase your focus is to listen so that you can repeat the point of what has just been said, putting it in the form of a question to add credibility. Try this phrasing, "So what I believe you're telling me is … "

That kind of approach has the added benefit of validating the other person, which also builds rapport.

Another tool is to learn not to be afraid of silence. Reporters know that if they want to learn something new, the best tactic is simply to be quiet. Salespeople know this technique as well. If the silence lasts long enough, the other person will try to fill it, and you may learn something the speaker wouldn't have otherwise divulged.

Another tool may take longer to learn and apply. You have to care in order to listen with focus.

And that means you must care about the other individual's information. If you tell yourself that the information in the conversation is more important than the points you want to make, it could be the beginning of actually taking the time to hear someone else.

Use nonverbal cues like nods and good eye contact to validate the speaker as well.

Finally, a great way to learn to listen is to take notes. It is a great compliment to the person speaking and it underscores that what he or she is saying is important to you.

Good product at right price is no longer enough