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Good Networking: The Power of Listening

Small business startup meeting.

Listening carefully to others is a skill most extroverts need to work on. It comes easier to introverts who naturally absorb and use what they hear. Introverts generally spend more time listening and less time talking. Did you ever have a battalion commander who knew your name and knew where you were from? How did it make you feel when he called you by name and remembered that you were a big Giants fan? Now compare that to when another one of your commanders called you only by your rank because he didn't know your name. It makes a big difference to know that someone cared enough to remember something about you, even if it's just your name and where you're from.

Most people are in one of two states during a conversation: speaking or waiting to speak. Waiting to speak is a bad listening habit. If you are waiting to speak, it means you are thinking about what you want to say, which means you are not listening. Introverts can take advantage of their listening skills to build sound relationships, which is at the heart of being a good networker. There are some listening behaviors that are important for you to be aware of so you can avoid them in your practice to become a good listener.

Good listeners engage in active, emphatic listening. Normal American conversational speech is about 25 to 50 words per minute. Normal comprehension, on the other hand, can occur at 400 to 500 words per minute. In other words, you are capable of listening at a rate eight to ten times faster than the other person is capable of speaking. This is nothing to celebrate. It's the reason for the most common bad listening habit—daydreaming. When you listen to someone speaking at a speed that's only about a tenth of your listening capability, your mind tends to fill its leftover capacity with other things. Here are a few examples of bad listening behaviors:

•  Focusing on the other speaker rather than what he or she is actually saying
•  Ignoring or shutting out what you don't understand or don't like
•  Letting your emotions bias or filter what the other person is saying
•  Daydreaming or letting external environmental factors interrupt your concentration
•  Interrupting before the speaker is finished

These things can then crowd out the conversation, and you lose some of what's being said. The cure for this inevitable tendency of the mind to wander during conversation is a discipline called active listening. Active listening is a way of giving your mind jobs to do that are concerned with the conversation. These jobs keep it focused. Here are three active listening techniques that you can use while networking:

1. Playing Back - One of the most powerful listening strategies is the technique of playing back. Listen to what the other person says and play it back. This is particularly useful in a net- working situation for introverts because it helps you check your interpretation of what the other person has said, and it actually makes the other person feel good. Beyond that, however, it is effective because it forces you to think and process what the other person says.

2. Summarizing - Summarizing is like playing back, except that it happens less frequently, and it involves more than one thought. As you process what the other person is saying, fit it together into a theme or concept so you can summarize a list of points the person has made. Like playing back, this technique has benefits at two different levels: First, it lets you check your understanding, and second, it forces you to attend to what the other person is saying so that you can create the summary later. At various points in the conversation, use a lead-in phrase and then list the points the other person has made: "If I have heard you correctly, you believe . . ." Summarizing shows the other person that you are listening, and that's an important part of building the relationship.

3. Reflecting Emotion - Reflecting is a form of playing back, but it applies to emotions rather than facts. Whenever you hear a sign of emotion in the other person's conversation, you may want to acknowledge it. This shows the other person that you are attending to him or her as a person, and it builds your relationship. Here are some examples of good lead-in phrases for reflecting emotion:

  • "It sounds like . . . you're angry about the way that turned out."
  • "I get the sense . . . you're going to take the offer."
  • "I looks like . . . you couldn't be happier."

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 Michael Abrams is an Afghanistan veteran and Founder of Four Block, a veteran career development program based in New York.  He is the author of Business Networking for Veterans as well as an Adjunct Professor at Fordham University.

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