Listening: The Forgotten Skill

By Mark Jankowski

Listening is an odd topic. Except for those of us with a condition that physically prevents us from hearing, we all know how to “listen”. Yet, in general, very few of us listen well. We fail to listen when we negotiate even though we know that it will help further our cause. In negotiations, the best way to get what you want is to help them get what they want. The only way to know what they want is to listen. As a bonus, sometimes all that the other side is really looking for is to be listened to. So, we see that we can become more effective negotiators, simply by being more effective listeners.

Being a more effective listener is not an easy task. The Wall Street Journal has reported that most people speak at a rate of 120 – 150 words per minute. While that may sound fast, the human brain can process more than 500 words per minute. One would conclude that people would then be excellent listeners, but the fact of the matter is that the extra bandwidth is ruining us. We have extra capacity, so we try to utilize it by multitasking. This comes in the form of talking on the phone while we’re driving or eating while we’re working. Short-term, we may accomplish more, but in the long run, the need for repetition and rework is costing us time.

Ineffective listening may be a problem, but what is the solution? Many courses suggest that if we eliminate distractions and focus on clarifying the message with the speaker, we’ll be better listeners. That statement is true, but in today’s work environment, is eliminating distractions an option? May times, for Project Managers, the “distractions” are your business. How many of us would be willing to eliminate the distracting sound of Opportunity’s gentle knock?

SNI’s solution to more effective listening is The Three Cs…Connect, Consider and Confirm. Recognizing that each individual has their own approach, we have avoided a laundry list of obvious suggestions, like maintain eye-contact, act interested and think before speaking. All of these are important, but a portable reminder like “The Three Cs” is more practical.

The first C is Connect. Yes, it includes eye contact, eliminating distractions and using good body language, but rather than what to do, it is a reminder to do something, anything to Connect. Eye contact is hard to establish over the phone, but Connecting shouldn’t be. Use the person’s name, stand up, take notes whatever works for you. Just remember to Connect in some way.

Consider your Response. Knee-jerk reacting is the opposite of listening, so Consider your response. Remember there is a big difference between waiting to speak and actually listening. Pause when the other side finishes speaking so that you can gather your thoughts. Acknowledge what they’ve said. Withhold making a snap judgment and even if you know what direction you’d like to go, Seek more information. Careful consideration not only allows you to formulate a response, it also sends a message that what the other side had to say merits your careful reflection.

Finally, the third C is Confirm. Confirmation is critical and needs to be done Before, During and After a conversation. Confirm before by setting an agenda in writing or clearly stating objectives at the beginning of an exchange. Confirmation during the conversation includes restatement and clarifying remarks. After the conversation takes place, it is important to Confirm what was said by summarizing all the critical points. Summation can be a verbal report at the end or in more formal situations, an e-mail or written summary can be effective. Confirmation is critical. It prevents errors and misunderstandings.

The key to this is, anyone can do it. There’s no secret formula on how to be a great listener. We all know how to do these things, it’s a matter of being cognizant of our behavior and adapting it as needed. The Three C’s give you a simple, yet comprehensive system to improve your listening skills, which in turn will improve your negotiating power.

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