Tag Archives for " Networking "

Tips To Listening Better From A Lifelong Listener

The greatest gift you can give to someone is your time. Giving your time goes beyond simply just being there. What good is your time if you’re not present? A big part of being present involves doing something that people really just don’t do very much. I would say people don’t do it anymore but in my lifetime (which hasn’t been very long), I don’t recall there ever being a great time of listening. The skill of listening has declined over time with the advent of mobile technology. Now it’s difficult to have a conversation with someone without them checking their phone every four minutes. Further, in a world of instant gratification people only listen long enough to sort of hear what you’re saying to think of their response.

I am a listener. I have always been a listener. I rather talk than listen. That may seem odd for someone who aspires to public speaking, but not really. The one thing a listener really wants is to be heard. People like me spend our lives being present in conversations, not picking up our phones, and clarifying what we just heard. Unfortunately, the favor is rarely returned. One of the many things I have observed as a listener is that people are so used to not being listened to that they will just keep talking until you interrupt them. I get this a lot. I’m listening as a person speaks for five, even ten minutes straight without a break. I rarely interrupt. I don’t like interrupting or being interrupted. Since I don’t interrupt, the person will eventually stop speaking and ask why I’m not contributing or saying anything, almost in frustration. To which I reply “I’m listening to you”. There is almost always a look of shock. People often speak so fast or so much in anticipation of being interrupted. But alas, as a listener 90% of the time, I’m going to let you talk.

I have also come to believe that people are largely unaware of the habits that are making others feel unheard. I’m using heard and listen interchangeably here, but I do distinguish between hearing and listening. Hearing is simply the observation of sound. Listening is interpreting the sound (in this case talking), comprehending it, and reacting accordingly. I do sometimes say “I don’t feel heard” to mean the same as listening. Now with that out of the way, here are tips to becoming a better listener from a life long listener.

Put Down The Device

It really isn’t necessary to have the phone in your hand while talking to someone. I typically don’t even bring my phone to meetings. If it’s a meal, I usually leave it in my bag. I know. It’s just a quick glance. But typically that quick glance is right in the middle of someone else’s story. Or what’s quick to you is much longer to them. If you’re expecting an important message, then set the expectation with the person at the beginning. I have attended meetings where every single person is typing on their computers or punching away at their phones. Yes, everyone is busy. But somehow listeners manage to listen to everyone and get their work done too. For one week when you attend a meeting or hang with friends, leave the phone at the desk or in the car. You can’t give someone your time if your nose is buried in a screen.

Resist The Urge To Interrupt – Better Yet, Don’t

The reason I don’t interrupt is because I’m focused on what the person is saying. I do interrupt at times. Sometimes it’s out of excitement, other times the person may have misunderstood a piece of information and needs a course correction. Sometimes I interrupt because I realize the person won’t stop talking until I do or I just want to say what I want to say. The reason you shouldn’t interrupt isn’t simply because it’s rude. You can’t understand what the other person is saying, feeling, or thinking if you’re talking over them. The message you’re unintentionally sending is that what they want to communicate doesn’t matter to you. You have something to say and you’re going to say it. This is also how misunderstandings get started. I have amazing recall for conversations, not because I have an incredible memory, it’s because I’m listening in the first place. For one week don’t interrupt anyone for any reason.

Repeat What They Say

A great technique for active listening is to repeat what the person said to you but in your own words. This lets the other person know you’re listening and solidifies the information in your own mind. A great way to do this is to say “This is what I heard you say…… Is that correct?” I once knew a person who would say they understood what I was saying but then when it was repeated back to me at a later date it was drastically different and damaging. This was completely frustrating because it meant clearly the person wasn’t listening and projected something entirely wrong on to me. For one week repeat back to the person what you heard them say in your own words. If they correct you, say it again until they agree.

Don’t Reinterpret The Message

This can be a tricky one. Some people are very direct. They say what they mean and mean what they say. Others speak in veiled language. There is a time for both. It’s going to take some knowledge of the person, but don’t assume every message is a veiled one. An example of veiled language is to say a house is cozy when it’s small. Here is another example. Once upon a time I was interviewing for a role. I asked the interviewer, who was the VP of something, what his leadership philosophy is. His response was “so what you’re really asking me is what do I do.” It was an interview so I responded with “sure”, but what I really wanted to say was “no”. I asked exactly what I wanted to know and the reinterpretation was so far off. This becomes easier as you get to know a person. You’ll know when they’re using veiled language versus being more direct. For one week just assume that people you don’t know well are saying what they mean, don’t reinterpret it.

Enjoy The Freedom

Allow the conversation to go where it goes, within reason of course. Another aspect of non-listening behavior I’ve observed is the need to keep the conversation rigid. Because the talker is talking and not listening, they want to keep the conversation focused where they want it to be. Have you ever been having a conversation with someone where you apologized for something and they just kept talking about it? They continued to talk about why they were hurt or offended or upset, and completely grazed over the apology that they seem to want so badly? We have all been there. Had the other person been listening the discussion could have been allowed to move in a different direction. One of the reasons I like listening is because, every now and again, the conversation can become so random it’s fun. You get to learn so much about people and it’s cool. It’s also freeing to just sort of go where the conversation takes you. For one week just go with the flow, within reason. I mean, if you’re supposed to be talking about fixing world hunger, you should probably stick with that.

The next time you find the other person in the conversation isn’t talking very much consider two things. One, you may be doing most of the talking and it’s time to listen; and two they are a listener and would really welcome the opportunity to talk if they know they’ll be heard. Encourage them to contribute. By the way, most great leaders are also great listeners.

About the author. Nile Harris is a word weaver and dream believer with 2o years of experience in healthcare and finance. This aspiring motivational speaker, TED presenter and LinkedIn Influencer is committed to valuing people, driving healthcare access and innovation, and weaving words that move people to action.  Her views are her own. Connect with Nile on Facebook and Twitter @theNileHarris.

5 Reasons To Focus More On Connecting Than Networking

Nile Harris

Networking is one of the most enduring business buzz words. It applies to all functions and industries. There are books and courses that teach why and how to effectively network your way to success. LinkedIn has an entire business model built around it. Occasionally, in order to not seem repetitive, we will use the word connection. While we tend to use them interchangeably I would argue these are actually two different things. Both are useful and have their place in our personal and professional lives. The challenge is we tend to approach them as interchangeably as the words. Yet, we know when someone has networked to us versus connected with us.

Networking is something computers do. Connection is something living creatures do. At the risk of potentially sounding confusing a network is an interconnection to one another typically for an exchange of information. A connection is a shared experience with someone else. Still with me? Good. We’ve all attended networking events with plenty of business in hand. The conversation tends to be focused on what the other person does. We collect the business card, exchange pleasantries and afterwards don’t follow up with the person. Unless, of course, there is a mutually beneficial reason to do so. When we connect with another human being we develop a sense of how we feel around that person. We remember personality traits, preferences and the experience of knowing that person. More importantly we want to talk with that person again and get to know more about them. The funny thing about connection is we did naturally as children, teenagers and even in college. This formed our inner circle of friends. When we entered the workforce somewhere along the way we got the message that we need to network to as many people as possible. This network will help us find jobs, business partners or information we need. We may not be as concerned with the personality traits of the other individual as long as we reach the desired goal.

Don’t dismay, networking has its place and so does connection. Here are five reasons you should focus more on connecting than networking.

1. Connection just feels good. When was the last time you left a networking event and said “wow, I feel great about myself”? Hmmm. How did you feel after having a great conversation with a co-worker or someone in the same industry as you? And by great I mean you learned more about the person beyond how they earn a living. Perhaps you attended the same school, worked at the same company or are from the same small town in California. That common bond sparked a conversation that allowed you to peek behind the curtain. That good feeling is not a fluke. As you connected with that person your body released oxytocin, the hug hormone. The release of oxytocin tells your brain you like interacting with the person and to do it again. This will lead your brain to act in such a way that will encourage reconnecting with the person. You may start to mimic their movements or laugh at what they say when it isn’t funny. Biologically speaking you are trying to form a connection with the person so that you can continue to feel good. Networking to a person doesn’t really cause you to open up. If we’ve networked well we will release dopamine and serotonin. Dopamine reinforces the feeling we get from accomplishing a goal and serotonin is about the feeling of being respected.

2. It’s appropriate in the workplace. We spend most of our days with co-workers, employees, customers, etc. yet somehow we feel we should limit our connection within these groups. The best team is a connected team. Being vulnerable with your colleagues and even your leadership can have a profound impact on productivity and results. Stop squirming in your seat. I’m not suggesting that you divulge your deepest secrets to your team. People perform for people they trust. Trust is built through connection (the release of oxytocin). The most successful leaders throughout time have consistently cited connection as one of the tools of their success. Yet, we get to work and experience very little of it. People are busy and have their own agenda. It’s like the emails you get from people who have forgotten there’s a human being on the receiving end. One of the most profound moments I have ever had at work was with a high-ranking executive who at one time was my one-over manager. He was leaving the company and I went to say my goodbyes. He had been a great mentor to me but I don’t believe we were ever connected, or so I thought. He was so raw and vulnerable while he revealed the true reason he was leaving. It takes an immense amount of trust to believe the person sitting across from you in that moment won’t run out the door and tell everyone what you just said. But by him doing that it allowed me to do the same with others who I thought would be a good risk. Not all risks work out, but I’ll get to that.

3. Connection isn’t a numbers game. When LinkedIn started to gain in popularity I believe people were secretly trying to up their “connection” numbers. Once you hit 500 links your status just shows as “500+”. This is the quintessential premise behind networking. You want to create pathways that help you reach a goal or accomplish a task. In some companies the only way to find out about job opportunities or be considered is to be highly networked. Connection on the other hand isn’t about the quantity, it’s about the quality. Within even the largest network you must have strong connections that will act on your behalf. These people can become your advocates if necessary. But that’s not why you connect with them, it’s a side effect of connecting with them. Believe me, people know when you’re trying to connect with them for that purpose alone. Developing meaningful relationships with people is also good for getting feedback Not to mention having a work “spouse” or “sibling” helps the day go by faster. It creates a strong sense of team and togetherness. A team with a sense of togetherness will be more productive and will take failure much better than a team who is torn apart. While it’s the leader’s job to create the environment for team cohesion, each member must be willing to put their trust on the line. Any member that doesn’t runs the risk of being cut from the team. The same is true in the animal kingdom. Animals tend to live in groups. If one animal in the group doesn’t rely on the others they are cast out.

4. Connection isn’t about status. There is something appealing to most about having people in your network with high titles. But there is something truly satisfying about being connected with someone who knows you don’t eat gluten and your favorite color is purple. It may be cool to be able to say you spoke with a certain high ranking official but it’s way cooler to say someone called you because they thought of you. We can expand our individual network by linking to someone with a large network. The assumption is the higher an individual is in the hierarchy the larger the network. So not true. People who know how to connect with others are typically good networkers and boast the largest pool of people in their circle. These people are known as nodes or hubs – #KevinBacon. A person’s professional or social position should not in any way dictate connecting with them. You want to have a mutually beneficial relationship with someone that feels good to both of you.

5. Be specific with your connections. Remember when I said that not all risks work out? You have to carefully consider who you will connect with. Networking is different in this regard. Knowing the shortest pathway to information or an individual is great. Having direct access to that pathway is invaluable. I have plenty of people in my network. The occasional email, call or text is good in order to stay in touch.  Sometimes a true connection is spontaneous and sometimes you have to work at it. But there are some connections you should not make. I recall connecting with a coworker who I thought would become a friend. This was someone I could seeing spending time with outside of work. It turns out that person used our connection to serve their own purposes. I know this because when I suspected this person might have ulterior motives for connecting with me I gave them false information about something. The next day someone I trusted repeated the information to me not knowing I was the source. In cases like that, you live it and learn it. Choose wisely and don’t connect with people who don’t want to connect with you. They may prefer to just be networked to you and that’s okay.  Don’t take it personal. There are all sorts of reasons they may not want to connect. But keep an open mind on them for later. You never know.

Now that I’ve given you the reasons to focus on connection here are some suggestions on how to do it.

  • Be genuine. Bring yourself to the interaction while maintaining a professional demeanor when warranted. The situation may call for being more personal than professional.
  • Be vulnerable. Share a little of yourself. It doesn’t have to be your whole life story. I’m a very private person but when I feel a connection to someone I’m more inclined to share.
  • Consider the other gender and other races. Even though networking is good men tend to network with men and women tend to network with women; same with the races. Your pool of connections (and your network) should be like the united colors of Benetton. If everyone in your circle looks like you, it’s really a square.
  • Find common ground. I don’t do well with small talk. Partly because I’m an introvert but mainly because it typically doesn’t lead somewhere after five minutes. Small talk can be a great way to find common ground from which to springboard into meaningful conversation. After five or ten minutes it may not go very far. My standard go-to common ground topics are school, home town and sports team. Nine times out of ten I can get somewhere with these topics. Topics to avoid are religion and politics.
  • Share a brief story about yourself. Sharing a quick anecdote that relates to the situation can break the ice. I’ve done it in this post without revealing my life story. It helps illustrate the point I’m trying to make while sharing a bit about myself that may resonate with someone else. Storytelling never goes out of style.
  • For goodness sake, just do it!

About the author. Nile Harris is a word weaver and dream believer with 2o years of experience in healthcare and finance. This aspiring speaker, TED presenter and LinkedIn Influencer is committed to valuing people, driving healthcare access and innovation, and weaving words that move people to action.  Her views are her own. Connect with Nile at her LinkedIn profile and follow @theNileHarris.