Do you hear it? The rumbling, dark rush of water? Wait, the sound changed. Now it sounds like the sweep of a hummingbird’s wing, rapid and delicate. Wait, the noise evolved again. This time it’s the steady whine of a buzz saw.
Where are we? In a business meeting.
Those noises exist just underneath the surface of almost every meeting. The rush of water could be an eager project leader; the hummingbird could be a quiet, smart junior professional; and the buzz saw might be the company’s resident cynic.
The problem is, most professionals don’t want to actively listen anymore. We want to prove we’re the smartest in the room, so we talk, talk and talk. And when we’re not talking, we’re waiting for the next chance to talk.
This is incredibly shortsighted. Do you know what the main goal of any business meeting or discussion is? To build a relationship among individuals. Deliberate, intentional listening allows you to create a foundation of empathy and trust with your peers, clients and new business targets.
Here are 10 questions to help you determine if you are a good business listener. Hint: If you squirm—be honest—over more than three questions, it may be worth it to zip your lips during the next conference call.
1. Do you talk more than others during meetings? Think back. Can you quantify your typical share of dialogue? Is it 15 percent? 30 percent? 50 percent?
2. When you prepare for a networking event, do you research your target’s goals or focus on developing your messages?
3. Think about the last external meeting you led. Did you drown out the junior people you are supposed to position for success, or did you use your words to help them become more successful in front of others?
4. When you present a speech, do you obsess over every word, or do you try to develop a flexible, back-and-forth format so the audience can participate?
5. Has anyone ever invited you to act as a facilitator to help opposing internal or external parties, or do others in your company take that role?
6. Consider your last big meeting. Can you quickly recall the biggest unsaid concerns in the room? Were you able to read between the lines to identify what really mattered to the group?
7. When you give feedback to a colleague, do you lead with your thoughts or routinely allow your colleagues to share their concerns first?
8. Has anyone ever complimented you on your ability to capture and illustrate another person’s point of view?
9. When you have an important business objective, do you always share it at the beginning of meetings? Have you ever tried to lead up to the objective with a series of shrewd questions instead? Trust your audience to guide the discussion.
10. Have you ever forced yourself to stay silent because you recognized it might actually be your best weapon?
If you set out to become a better listener, you’ll become one almost immediately. Why? Because people love to talk, and they always welcome an audience. Use their need to help become a more thoughtful, insightful professional.
Share your best advice in the comments section. I’ll be listening!
Elizabeth Sosnow is a managing director with BlissPR. She writes for the firm's blog, where this article first appeared.