By Laura Montocchio
Since you’re reading Bonus Focus, it’s safe to assume that
you’re a good talker. Both trainers and
executive leaders need to be able to explain things clearly. Of course
most pharmaceutical and biotech trainers have also “carried the bag” at some
point in their career—and we all know how sales people love to talk. (I
can say that because I resemble that remark!)
Being able to talk and express
yourself is vital in your professional life, but it isn’t the only requirement
for successful communication. It’s equally important to listen and make
others feel heard.
listeners are rare. When you encounter someone who truly listens, it’s
refreshing, and can even be a little disarming. You find yourself
trusting that person and you’re not even sure why. When you feel heard
you feel safe to open up more and more. Perhaps most important -- because
you feel heard and understood, you’re more likely to listen to what that person
has to say.
Are you a good listener?
Take this quick quiz to evaluate your L.Q. (listening quotient!).
True or False:
--When a person says something I don’t agree with I often interject to make my point.
--During conversations, while the other person is talking, I’m often thinking
about what I’m going to say next.
--I often multi-task when I’m listening to someone.
--When I hear someone stating their opinion, I sometimes decide whether or not
I agree with them before they’ve even finished talking.
--During conversations I sometimes have trouble picking up on the non-verbal
cues I’m being given.
--I sometimes pretend to listen to people when I’m really not interested in
what they’re saying.
--When I’m in a conversation with someone, I sometimes filter information and
hear only what I want to hear.
--Sometimes I answer too quickly, without first making sure I understood what
the other person said.
--I sometimes finish other people’s sentences for them.
--When I’m at a party or other social event, I sometimes look past the person
I’m talking to and think about who I want to speak to next.
--I often enter into a conversation with a personal bias toward the subject
--When I’m having a conversation with someone, I tend to think about other
things I need to be doing.
Still think you’re a good
listener? If you answered “true” to even one of those statements, then
you’ve got room for improvement. If you answered “true” to more than one,
then you’re in the right place. Keep reading!
Good listening skills are about
much more than smiling and nodding your head a lot. There are specific
verbal skills you can use to not only help you tune into what the other person
is saying, but also make the other person feel heard. When a person feels heard, they’re more
likely to engage in meaningful dialogue with you. If you focus as much on creating dialogue as
you do on delivering your own message, you’re much more likely to make an
impact. Whether you’re interacting with
trainees, your boss or colleagues from marketing, making an impact is what it’s
all about. Said another way, by creating dialogue you create a dynamic in
which your message ends up being more fully received.
While listening might be
considered an art, it’s also a learnable discipline. Mastering these four simple skills can
transform your interactions with others:
With a non-leading, paraphrasing
statement, you restate in your own words what someone has just said to
you. Imagine going into a meeting with a colleague first thing in the
morning. Your colleague seems stressed, and she says, “I’ve never seen so
much traffic in my life! I was stuck on the freeway for an hour this
If you were a bad listener you
might ignore what she said altogether and start talking about something else.
Or, (perhaps more likely…) you might chime in and start talking about how you
got stuck in traffic this morning, too, and how you were late getting to work
and missed an important phone call, and how you would rather live somewhere
with fewer people, blah, blah, blah. But in doing that you would suddenly
be making the interaction about you. If you want to create dialogue, make sure your response isn’t about
you, but rather is focused on the other person. To prove
that you’re listening and to make her feel heard you might instead choose to
use a non-leading, paraphrasing statement like, “The traffic is terrible
today!” or “The roads were really jammed this morning!”
By doing this, your colleague instantly
knows that you heard her. She knows you’re a good listener, and she’s more
likely to open up to you during the upcoming meeting.
2. Ask open, non-leading
An open, non-leading question is
a question that doesn’t have a simple, one word answer. Imagine you’ve
spent months planning a training event. Then one day your boss says, “I’m
afraid that training event you’ve been working on might have to be cancelled.”
A bad listener might react
immediately by talking about how much work they’ve put into planning the
event. But a good listener might instead choose to precede any comment
about his own concerns with an open, non-leading question like, “What’s going
on?” or “Why do you say that?”
An open, non-leading question is
just another way of saying “please tell me more” or “please explain what you
just said.” You’re asking the other person to elaborate and give you more
information before you reply with
your perspective or concerns. Once again, it makes the other person feel
heard, and shows him that you’re a good listener.
3. Ask closed, follow-up
questions to learn more
Unlike open non-leading questions, closed follow-up questions usually elicit
a one-word answer. Closed
follow-up questions can also help you create dialogue – sometimes by serving as
a reminder for you to take a breath before you reply. To illustrate, let’s use the previous example
of your boss talking about the upcoming training event possibly being
cancelled. He goes on to explain that
not everyone who needs to be at your training event is going to be able to make
it because some scheduling conflicts have come up. Needless to say, you’re
not happy about this for a variety of reasons.
Despite your gut reaction to throw up your hands in frustration, you
instead choose to pause for a moment, and ask a closed, follow-up question
like, “Will it be possible to reschedule the event in the fall?”
When you ask a question like that your boss can say “yes” or “no”
or “maybe” or even choose to elaborate further. Regardless, asking
this follow-up question allows you the chance to not only demonstrate that
you’re a good listener, but also to exhibit some professional equanimity by
buying yourself time to regroup before you respond with any concerns. This makes your boss feel heard, and provides
you with an opportunity to show him that you’re cool under pressure.
4. Empathy statements
The fourth and final skill for
creating dialogue is using empathy statements. Remember, sympathy is
expressing your sorrow for someone else’s pain or problem. Empathy is
letting her know that you really get it. (Or at least that you’re trying
to get it.)
Empathy is such a powerful tool
for creating dialogue because it lets the other person know that you are making
a real effort to understand her — to recognize what it feels like to be in her
shoes. Empathy statements are all about one thing: labeling an
Let’s go back to our first
example with your colleague who was stuck in traffic. She is visibly
stressed and says, “I’ve never seen so much traffic in my life! I was
stuck on the freeway for an hour this morning!”
A good empathy statement might
be, “Being stuck in traffic can be so frustrating!” or “How stressful!”
This gives your colleague a
chance to say, “Yes!” She feels heard. Then again, maybe she
doesn’t feel frustrated or stressed out at all. Maybe she just feels guilty
because she was almost late to the meeting. In any case, your empathy
statement shows that you’re making an honest effort to understand her feelings
and give her an opportunity to tell you about it. It’s yet another way to
demonstrate that you’re a good listener.
Sometimes we get so wrapped up in
our own schedules and agendas that we don’t listen as well as we should.
We’re thinking about what we want and what we need and what we want to
say. When everyone gets stuck in that mode, authentic communication
suffers; meaningful dialogue just doesn’t happen. Practice these four
listening skills, and you will set yourself apart from the rest of the crowd
simply by making other people feel heard.
Laura Montocchio is president and founder of You Make the Call!, Inc.,
the inventors and sole providers of You Make the Call!® role-play platform. She can be
reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.