This post is part of our Weekly Tips series.
Listen, listen, listen. I harp on it all the time in our programs and in these weekly tips. It’s a critical skill for anyone endeavoring to be a trusted advisor. And I don’t care how adept you think you are as a listener, there’s always room for improvement.
Here’s a listening challenge that I use in my advanced workshops: See if you can listen to someone for four minutes without asking a single question.
That’s right—not a single question (other than the one you might have to ask to get the conversation going—although even then, there’s a way around it).
“But wait!” you may have just exclaimed, “Then we’ll just be sitting awkwardly in silence so I’ll have nothing to listen to.” Or perhaps you’re wondering, “How am I supposed to show my stakeholder that I’m interested/curious/paying attention if I don’t ask a question?”
Those are legit concerns. To address them (and any others you might have), here are seven alternatives to asking questions, in no particular order. All seven can paradoxically (1) yield far more openness and sharing on the part of the person you’re listening to, and (2) convey considerably more interest on your part. Think of them as listening mastery moves:
This challenge generally assumes you’ll engage with someone with whom you can have a “meaty” conversation—i.e. a client you’re working with, or a new contact you’re interested in getting to know (and who is interested in engaging with you). Don’t try this with the grocery store clerk in the checkout line as you probably won’t get very far. Then again, maybe you will. Allow yourself to be surprised.
Let’s be clear: I’m not saying you should never ask a question. I’m saying build your listening chops such that you have much more in your toolkit, and so you aren’t tempted to lead with the one listening skill (questioning) that naturally lends itself to trust-compromising things like premature problem-solving and controlling a conversation.
This week, try at least four of the seven mastery moves. Choose the ones that are the least practiced and/or most uncomfortable. Make it your aim to generally practice them every day, or target specific conversations. What opens up?