The most successful networkers that I know are great listeners, not just great talkers. They know how to ask good questions and to engage other people in conversation.
They are able to be fully present in the conversation, but also able to take mental note of the important information that the other person is sharing.
Even the smallest detail could be valuable information in order for you to turn a new connection into a mutually-beneficial relationship for the future.
Listening is sometimes the biggest challenge in networking
When I was searching for a good image to put with this article, I found this Chinese character with English notations. I think it says a great deal about what listening is really all about.
- Your ears – the functioning body part that takes in the sound. Your ability to physically hear the sounds they are making when they speak;
- Your eyes – the part of you that reads body language and scans for other important non-verbal communication and input;
- Your heart – how compassionately you listen and if you can stay tuned in without judgement or criticism;
- Your undivided attention – the discipline of focusing all your being on the person you are interacting with. Do you have enough self-control, calmness and courtesy to give someone your complete, undivided attention, even if just for a few minutes? With today’s technology, it’s getting increasingly harder to do this simple task.
I would also add..
- Your mouth – you can’t truly listen if you mouth is open and working. You must be willing to close your mouth long enough to allow the other person to speak their peace.
- Your body – be still, my friend. If you are constantly wiggling in your chair, moving around, busy with tasks, you will miss out on the benefits of active listening. Deep and slow breathing will support your listening success.
So what should you be listening for when you are networking with someone?
Many things, starting with their needs and how you might be able to help them. Listen thoroughly before you jump in with a solution.
Connections and common threads. One of the greatest ways in which you can help people is to connect them with other people – folks in your network. When you are truly listening and are open to helping, your mind will open up your mental Rolodex and identify other people that this person should be networking with.
Information. In the course of any conversation, there is valuable insight that is shared if you are truly listening. Sometimes it’s the little things about their personal life or special interests. If you can tune in to the details of what really matters to them – like what motivates the person you are networking with – well then, you are on your way to becoming a natural networker.
- What kinds of information are valuable in networking? Read this article I wrote for the Southworth Co blog – http://www.southworth.com/2011/networking/listen-valuable-content-networking-action/
Your Networking Goal for this Week
After your next hot shower, take a soft Q-Tip and gently swab your ears, removing any built-up ear wax. If you need to book an appointment to have your ears checked and maybe get a hearing aid, please do so. You must have the functional ability to hear in order to listen. If all your parts are working, you can go to the next step.
Now listen up!
The next time you network with someone face to face, start by powering down all of your technology. Turn your body so you are facing the the other person. Don’t look around the room, but look at them (eyes are most natural place to look). Try to concentrate your total attention on them, disregarding all other activity around you. See how long you can hold your attention with them.
If you are networking on the telephone, turn away from any lap top or computer screen. Turn over any papers or other material so that you are not distracted by random content.
If you are networking on the cell phone, make sure you are not driving. Pull over and park the car for a few minutes. Turn the engine OFF. (now this is getting hard) See if you can sit in your car and have a networking conversation and truly listen without the multi-task challenges of driving and talking.
Bottom line: it’s time to improve your listening performance this week. See how it enhances your networking relationships and outcomes. See how it feels to make listening a priority. Who knows, someone soon might describe you as a really great listener. I find that is one of the best compliments you can receive!