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Are you really listening?

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At a skills-sharing event for entrepreneurs, hosted by Appco UK, hostage negotiator Richard Mullender spoke about the power of listening and the importance of clear communication. Richard’s session was so good, Appco decided to dedicate a series of three blogs to look in more detail at what we can learn from this communication expert.

Hostage negotiator Richard Mullender spoke to entrepreneurs in the Appco UK network about the power of listening.

Listen like someone’s life depends on it

Richard opened the session with a question to the audience: “Who here is a good listener?”

Those who raised their hands were asked for suggestions about how to listen. One answer was “hear what people are saying”, to which Richard responded: “You may be born with two ears to hear, but that doesn’t mean you listen.”

Richard emphasised his point by describing a hostage-negotiation scenario:

It’s 11pm and you’ve been called to negotiate with a man who believes his wife is having an affair and has covered her in petrol. He is behind the door and, from the next statement, he will tell you all the information you need to get both him and the woman out safely.

The man says: “So what would you do then? Come on, you tell me. You go to work, you do your best, you come home and what do you find? She’s on the phone talking to her lover. What would you do?”

Richard said that, at this point, the key is to listen for the emotional triggers. In this case, the man’s emphasis is around working hard. By listening carefully, you can learn that this man places value – his value – on being a hard worker.

In every situation, you can teach yourself to listen to people’s emotions and base your own responses on them in order to genuinely connect with them.

Don’t be a hasty responder

Richard went on to explain that another common mistake people make is being too interested in a small part of a story.

When speaking to someone, you often follow their answer with another question:

Going to the movies was only a small part of their weekend, but because we were so focussed on it, we cut off the rest of the story.

By letting the person continue, we get a lot more information: they actually went to the movies, had a wonderful family lunch and took their children to the park. The whole focus of their weekend has now shifted, and we have learned much more about them.

Another way to encourage conversation and learn more about people is to ask more indirect questions.

For example, instead of “Do you like Game of Thrones” becomes “What did you think of the last episode of Game of Thrones?” The answer to the second question will give you a lot more insight than the “yes” or “no” response you can expect to the first question.

Good listeners also know how to take their turn in a conversation, and keep the discussion flowing.

Taking your turn doesn’t necessarily mean adding anything more to the conversation; it can simply be a look or a sound to acknowledge what is being said.

If you do not engage when someone is talking, they will start to doubt you are listening to them and will eventually stop speaking. By showing the person you are still engaged and listening – even with a simply nod or murmur of agreement – they will feel reassured that they are being heard and their information is of value. And that is the key to all effective and meaningful conversations.