Try Listening

I was given a Kindle for Christmas and I’ve been having a lot of fun browsing books. I love the description of one I saw yesterday regarding dog training: “Learn how to talk to your dogs.”

Hell I have four dogs, I know how to talk to them – I need to know how to make them listen!

Then it hit me – it’s not always how we talk to people sometimes the problem is how we listen. Taking it a step further problems arise when we stop listening or never listen to begin with.

We hear what someone says and we assume what they mean. You know what they say about assuming….

One rule that I discuss in detail with my clients is to ask clarifying questions. If you are in doubt – ask! This is a limited opportunity to shine so you want to make sure you are addressing the correct ideas, issues or questions.

It is easy enough to do – simply state, “There are a couple of ways that I could interpret that question, just for clarification do you mean X or Y?” This shows that you are engaged, care about what you are talking about and give thought to your answers rather than trying to brown nose.

Sometimes when we hear a statement we assume it is a finite end. For example if an interviewer says, “Right now we are not in need of an XYZ.” It could be easy to think this is the end and walk away with your tail between your legs. However if you were listening you would have caught the “right now” part. Go ahead and ask, “Do you see that changing in the near future?” or “What factors could affect that?”

If you are listening you will know what questions to ask to get to the answers you seek.

Listen to the visual clues as well, but remember don’t assume there either. I remember seeing someone walking out of an interview and they seemed very chummy with the interviewer. I immediately thought, great, my chances are shot. I was wrong. It was their sister’s boyfriend asking for tips before he interviewed with someone else in the company.

We are so quick to misinterpret non-verbal communication because we make it a sport. It’s called people watching. I love people watching! I’m going downtown tomorrow to experience all the pre-Super Bowl festivities and you better believe half the fun will be the people watching.

Because it is a natural past-time of so many of us we regard it lightly and just assume what we see is what it is. Wrong. Making assumptions can cause you to miss out on opportunities. Sometimes it just makes you look like an ass. When in doubt – ask.

The interviewer leaning back in their chair, crossing their arms and looking at you intently after you answer a question does not necessarily mean they did not like the answer you just provided. Perhaps you said something that they had not thought of and they need a moment to digest it. For goodness sakes fight the urge to fill the empty space with more talking. Give them their moment – they will continue and then you will have clarification.

I have fun with people making incorrect assumptions. It is right up there with people watching. When I was in compliance I had several brokers assume because I was petite and a woman that I was meek and not very knowledgeable about the business.

It would have been very easy for me to go on the defense and immediately start the conversation with grand statements and bold gestures to let them know exactly who I was and what I knew. That would have been a career killer.

Instead I let them talk and assume. I let them lead the conversation and watched their body language. I let them grandstand, talk down to me, make assumptions and just waited. When they were done laying it out as to what they thought it was and would be I waited for the pause to let me know they were done.

Then I professionally and politely informed them of how it truly was, what needed to be done, the best course of action to complete it, the ramifications if it were not done properly, the benefits of doing it correctly, how I would help/guide the process and how we would start, implement and complete the process successfully. I win.

If there were a challenge that appeared later they knew not to make the same incorrect assumptions about me again and we worked beautifully together.

I get it personally, too, always have. I grew up a tomboy and most of my friends have always been men. In college I was the “little sister” to the first floor, a diverse group of great guys who looked after me as if I truly were their little sister. It scared away a lot of dates – not always a bad thing.

While my son was growing up his father and I attended every practice, program and game that he participated in together. For years most of the parents didn’t realize that we were divorced because we arrived together, sat together, talked, and left together. He lives a couple of blocks away from me so to us it made logistical sense to go together. The fact that we became good friends after the divorce meant that we could easily have conversations. And the most important fact of our son is our first priority made it all make sense to us.

Getting back to my point – be aware that it is not always that someone is not communicating clearly with you, it may very well be that you are not listening clearly to them.

Lisa K. McDonald, CPRW
Career Coach-Strategist
Certified Professional Resume Writer
Career Polish, Inc.

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