Do you hear it?
That rumbling, dark rush of water? Wait, it’s changed. Now it sounds like the sweep of a hummingbird wing, rapid and delicate. But, in seconds, the noise evolves again, this time emerging as the steady, pounding whine of a buzz saw.
Where are we? We’re in a business meeting.
Make no mistake, those noises exist just underneath the surface of almost every meeting. That rush of water could be an eager project leader, the hummingbird could be a quiet and smart junior professional, and the buzz saw (you guessed it) might be the company’s resident cynic.
The problem is, most professionals don’t seem to want to actively listen anymore. We want to prove that we’re smartest folks in the room, so we talk, talk, and talk. And when we’re not talking, we’re just “on hold,” waiting for the next chance to talk.
But that’s incredibly shortsighted behavior. Do you know what the main goal of any business meeting or discussion is? It’s 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 diagnose if you are a good business listener. (Hint: If you honestly squirm over more than three of the below questions, it may be worth “zipping your lips” during that next conference cal)l:
1. Do you typically talk more than others during a meeting? Thinking back, can you quantify your typical share of a dialogue? Is it 15 percent? 30 percent? 50 percent?
2. When you prepare for a networking event, do you focus by researching your target’s goals? Or on developing your own messages?
3. Think about the last external meeting you led. Did you “drown out” the junior people you are supposed to be positioning for success? Or did you “spend” your words to help them become more successful in front of others?
4. When presenting a speech, do you obsess over every word? Or do you try to develop a flexible, “back and forth” format for audience participation?
5. Have you ever been invited to act as a facilitator to help opposing internal or external parties? Or does that opportunity naturally default to others in your company?
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 mattered to the group?
7. When giving feedback to a colleague, do you lead with your thoughts or routinely allow your colleague to share their concerns first?
8. Have you ever been complimented for your ability to capture and illustrate another person’s point of view in “real time?”
9. When you have an important business objective, do you always share that at the beginning of the meeting? Have you ever tried leading 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, recognizing that it might actually be your best weapon?
If you set out to become a better listener, you’ll actually become a better listener almost immediately. Why? Simply put, people love to talk—and they always welcome an audience. Use their need to help yourself become a more thoughtful, insightful professional.