Networking Skills: The Art Of Active Listening

When you are in a business networking meeting you might be tempted to talk more than you listen, especially if you are nervous. However, brushing up on your active listening skills will bring you results ...

So, why we should listen? Well, you can become much more efficient and the quality of your relationships with others will improve when you're a good listener.

We listen to:

- obtain information
- understand things
- enjoy music, books, or conversations
- learn

When we focus on really listening carefully, we can save time because we will have the information we need to take action or ask questions, and we will gain new skills and knowledge. More importantly, people will want to talk to us if they feel that we're paying close attention to what they're saying.

By becoming better listeners, we can improve productivity, and our ability to influence, persuade and negotiate. We'll also reduce conflict and misunderstandings.

Research suggests that we only remember between 25% and 50% of what we hear. So, if you spend 10 minutes talking to your colleagues, customers, or partner, they will forget most of what you have said. It also means that we miss a lot of the information given to us. We must just hope that the important parts are in the quarter to half that we remember, but what if they're not?

To improve your listening skills, you can practice what's called active listening. This means you focus on hearing the words someone is saying and understanding the message being communicated. That sounds easy, but is it?

To be an active listener you must avoid the distractions all around you. You will have to pay close attention until the other person stops speaking. This means you will need to pause and then respond to them, rather than preparing your reply while they are still talking.

Above all, you must not become bored and lose interest. If you are struggling to concentrate, try repeating what they are saying inside your head. You might be surprised at how much more you understand when you do this and it will help you to stay focused.

"You need more than your ears!"

Of course, deaf people are very good listeners, whether they are lip-reading or using sign language because they must give their full attention to what's being said. They will also pick up a lot of information from gestures, posture, and eye movement. We can all do this too, although many of us don't.

To improve your listening skills, you can let the speaker know that you are listening by maintaining eye contact, nodding, smiling, and sometimes adding an encouraging word. You can also add an occasional question or confirmation that you understand a comment to show that you are engaged with the conversation.

Be an active listener when you're networking. Listening isn't the same as agreeing with what someone says. Hopefully, the people you meet will be good listeners and, in return, they will respect your views when it's your turn to speak. There isn't an easy formula about how to be a good listener, but I've included some tips below.

- Attention - give the speaker your attention and encourage them to continue
- Body language - folded arms or too little eye contact will suggest that you aren't fully engaged, so try to stay relaxed and open
- Feedback - avoid assumptions. We all make them, but as far as possible try not to let your own views, judgments, and beliefs distort what you hear. To confirm that you have been genuinely listening, try asking a question when someone stops speaking, such as, "So, am I right in thinking that you are saying ... ?" Alternatively, you can give a quick summary of what you have heard
- Responding - when someone stops speaking, they will expect a response. You can say something like "I didn't know that" or "I've never thought about it like that before". If you disagree with someone, you should say so, as long as it is appropriate to the context

BNI has a great training programme for all members with seminars, podcasts and workshops happening on a regular basis. We are encouraged to attend and you'll certainly learn how to actively listen if you join us.