The Power of Listening

Recently, I attended a reception at the women’s club where I’m a member.  When I attend programs, I make it a point to circulate and talk, usually joining three or four tables over the course of an event.  I’ve been fortunate to participate in dozens of conversations, meaningful and superficial, and I’ve formed some good relationships.  When in conversation, ideally, I listen more than I talk. That ebb and flow is the subtle dance of communication.

While in conversation, learning to keep one’s mouth shut and ears open, so that you can focus attention on the person who is speaking, requires mindfulness and discipline.  So often we do not really listen, we only pause, to formulate an answer that will help us win a debate or demonstrate expertise in the topic.  Conversation can become a game of one-upmanship, when we’re more interested in being clever, or seeming to be very wise or au courant.

When you take the time to listen, the ego must be set aside as you signal the unique value of the other person by allowing him/her to express thoughts and feelings, insights and knowledge.  You may appear to be passive but in reality, listening well is quite active.  When we listen with intention, most of our senses are activated.

We watch facial expressions and detect happiness, distress, interest, or boredom in the eyes and mouth and even the posture.  We hear the cadence of speech, the choice of words used and the tone of voice.  In this way, we take in the story as it is told and we begin to understand the other person’s values, worries, joys, competencies and humor.  Listening with conviction is the highest compliment that one can pay to another human being.  When we listen, we get to know people and build relationships.

Careful listening also allows you to grasp what a person does not say and that could be very revealing.  Hone your listening skills and learn to “listen between the lines,” so that you can more fully understand the motivations and perhaps hidden agendas of those with whom you interact.  Listen and get a sense of who is telling the truth and who is hiding behind a facade.  Whether you are in a negotiation with a client, interviewing a job candidate, or at dinner with someone you wonder if you should see again, listening well will guide your next steps.

Listening skills are a key ingredient of selling skills.  Listen carefully to your prospect and learn what is most important to him/her and then describe how your product or service will resolve the need and eliminate difficulties.  If you are a Freelance consultant who is interviewing with the hope of winning an assignment Dave Mattson, CEO and president of Sandler Training, the sales training firm, recommends that you get straight to the point and ask what three criteria define success for the project and then listen, and truly hear, the answer.  You will quickly discover whether you are a good fit for the project and what you must say and do to win it.

Finally, listening will allow you to adjust your style of communication to align with the person you are speaking with and that is a very important part of building trust, demonstrating proficiencies, telegraphing empathy and being persuasive, the building blocks of both good relationships and effective selling.  Essentially, your heightened listening will allow the two of you to speak the same language and that is the heart of effective communication.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Write an Effective Business Letter

All writing is about the intended reader (that is, the audience).  Whether it’s a book, song, movie, opera, website, marketing brochure, grant proposal, or fundraising letter, the one priority for the writer to keep in mind is that the intended recipient matters most.  Writing is a basic means of communication and we have many reasons to choose to express our thoughts or requests in writing, rather than verbally.  Usually, we write to make our thoughts official, to communicate with someone whom we do not know, or to communicate with a large number of people.

We write to express our point of view or to make a request.  We may write to persuade the reader to take a particular action based on information that is presented or to consider a new perspective and modify his/her opinion.  In other words, writing is selling. Writers will benefit from the following guidelines:

  1. Purpose: Why are you writing?
  2. Audience: Who is the reader (audience)?
  3. Outcomes: How can you persuade the reader to care about your subject or request?

The first question is actually about you, the writer.  What motivates you to write? Are you in search of funding for a project that you would like to advance and so you must write a business or grant proposal? Might your objective be to write a sales or marketing letter that will be sent to those who you feel are potential customers for your product or service? Are you producing content for a website or other promotional material that will communicate your expertise to potential customers and give them the confidence to contact you? You will be an effective writer only when you develop the self-awareness and confidence to acknowledge what you would like your written material to achieve, so that you will choose vocabulary that reflects your intent.

The second question ensures that you tailor your message and vocabulary to resonate with your intended reader or audience.  The successful writer will consider the point of view of the reader and craft a message that is likely be understood and accepted by that reader.  If it is a proposal that you will write, then you must address the interests of several stakeholders who will be able to speak favorably or unfavorably of your request.  Grant applications and business proposals always include financial information as well as operations and marketing information, for example, to satisfy those three important decision-making constituencies.

The final question addresses the perceived benefits that the reader or audience can expect to derive from what you have written.  Here, the writer must tightly focus on the readers’ priorities and preferences and consider the outcomes attached to the expression of the thoughts or creative expression, or the relative value of your request.  What will be in it for the reader if s/he buys your book, devotes time and money to attend a performance of your music, or approves your grant or proposal?

The writer is advised to utilize a communication style and vocabulary that are familiar and reassuring to the reader or audience,  as a way to build confidence, encourage acceptance and approval and result in mutual success.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

 

Getting and Giving Advice: Tact

In my March 1 post, I introduced the matter of giving and receiving advice and I let readers know that over the next few months I would explore different aspects of this important and sensitive topic. Here is the link to that post, if you’d like the reference.

https://freelancetheconsultantsdiary.wordpress.com/2016/03/01/getting-and-giving-advice-skill-set/

When offering advice to someone, especially if it is unsolicited, tact is an essential ingredient.  In today’s bombastic communications environment that is dominated by “reality”shows,  current events infotainment-style “news” shows and even presidential debates that not infrequently de-volve into scream fests, it appears that the use and value of tact have been greatly diminished.  Name-calling is in vogue, I’m sorry to say.

Tact comes easily for some but for most of us, tact requires first an awareness of its need, followed by lots of practice in its implementation.  When a difficult conversation must take place,  when in a negotiation, or even when relaxing and chatting with friends or family, tact is a useful skill. Tact adds subtlety and sophistication to your speaking style and makes you look more professional and competent.  Furthermore,  there will be no good relationships built without it, business or personal.

Being direct in one’s expression is also a useful skill,  but the ability to deliver a blunt opinion well is real talent. There is a right way to tell the outrageous truth.  The essence of tact is keeping one’s emotions in check, so that the impulse to blurt out hurtful (or semi-incoherent) statements will be curbed.  Consider keeping the following suggestions in mind as you work to incorporate the nuances of tact into your communications portfolio.

THINK FIRST

Especially in a conversation that seems to have the potential to become heated, pause, so that you can listen to what is being said by the other party and give yourself time to organize your thoughts and choose your words carefully.  By any means necessary, avoid attacks,  threats,  arm-twisting,  sarcasm,  accusations and disrespect.  You may be unhappy with what the other person has said or done,  but aim to express your displeasure in a polite and yet no-nonsense manner.  This approach is not to be confused with backing down.

SOFTEN NEGATIVE FEEDBACK

When you must address the stressful matter of unmet expectations or poor results,  the tactful approach is the best way to get you and the other person on the road to effecting a satisfactory solution.

First, search for a way to include a positive observation about the outcome. Next, discuss what came up short.  Be diplomatic with your criticism—it may be that you did not clearly communicate your request and thus caused the other person to misunderstand.  Make the conversation a teachable moment for both of you.

TIMING IS EVERYTHING

It may not be possible to know in advance the best time to wade into a sensitive subject. If you attempt to force a discussion at an inconvenient time,  your message will not be well received and if your manner of approach reeks of entitlement,  you could damage the relationship.

Always ask if it’s a good time to talk.  If it appears that the other person can focus on choosing another time,  then ask to do so.  But if that person appears to be overwhelmed,  back off and revisit the subject at another date.  Respect for boundaries  is another cornerstone of tact and tact is good business.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

The Elements of Your Brand Story

A perennially engaging way to tell clients and prospects about you and your business venture is to spin a good story, ideally one that contains a compelling case study that spotlights your problem-solving ability, creativity and expertise. Everyone enjoys and remembers a good story; they usually feel connected in a positive way to people who tell them well. Expert storytellers have the ability to captivate an audience and gain their trust.

You may never become a TED Talk-worthy storyteller, but it’s still possible for you to devise a more than adequate brand narrative that effectively illustrates what you do; describes your typical clients; and gives an overview of the positive solutions that you create for clients. Your ability to tell the story will improve along the way.

Consider storytelling to be an element of your leadership development process; the most highly respected and popular leaders are excellent communicators and good stories are often included. Those leaders are persuasive. They are likable.  They generate trust and respect and there is great confidence in their abilities. As you brainstorm the elements of your brand story, try organizing your thoughts around the following:

  1. Who you are and what you do

Share a sliver of your personal details, to help your audience understand who you are and what matters to you. Don’t be afraid to break out of the expected corporate mode (while maintaining your comfort level boundaries). Segue into the services that you provide and/or products that you sell. Be succinct, clear and thought-provoking as you describe the needs or problems that you and your team address and resolve.

There may be no distinguishing factors to your work philosophy, but do mention your commitment to excellence and exceeding expectations. Inserting a paragraph about your volunteer work could be helpful. Whether your volunteer work is with those who are trying to improve their professional skills or in some aspect of the arts, that knowledge gives prospects and clients a good sense of your values and portrays you as a community-oriented, well-rounded professional.

2. Why / For whom you work

Name the usual customers that you work with: Fortune 1000 life sciences companies, small not-for-profit arts organizations, or whatever in between.

3. How you do it

Insert case study. The challenge is how to describe what you do without betraying client confidentiality, your proprietary secret sauce,  or overloading your audience with confusing details.  On which projects did you (and your team) deliver the goods that made a difference? Write it down, edit well, rehearse out loud and perfect the telling.

4. Outcomes / Proof of success

Potential clients must feel confident that you and your team will meet, if not exceed, their expectations.  Sharing an example  of a compelling client success story paints a picture of you in action and at your best.  Start with a description of the challenge or difficulty that these clients faced when they came to you.

Next, in simple and concise language (and preserving client confidentiality), explain selected highlights of what you did to achieve the desired results and why you chose that particular course of action. Conclude with an overview of the key benefits that the clients have received now that they’ve worked with you.

Tell case study stories that encourage prospective clients to identify with the challenges or problems that you resolved, so that they will be inclined to feel that hiring you is a smart move, one that will make them look good in the eyes of their superiors, colleagues and staff.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

 

Freelancer Fails You Must Avoid

Life is a gamble and there are no guarantees. Making one’s living as a Freelance consultant adds an extra measure of unpredictability. Do whatever you can to control that which you can control and lay the groundwork for success in your consultancy.  As they say, don’t shoot yourself in the foot. You will see that most of what you must do right hinges on communication, in one form or another. Here are a few unfortunate practices that will bring down even the most professionally knowledgeable and well-connected consultant:

The service does not make sense

Or, it is poorly communicated and prospective clients don’t understand the service or how to make use of it. The ability to describe one’s services, help a prospective client picture how and when it might be useful to their organization and in the process persuade the prospect that the service is valuable and the Freelancer has the skill to deliver it is how business is created. Finding your sweet spot, defining your value proposition and communicating it well, are vital.

Sometimes, clients don’t know what they need, but they know that they need help. A serendipitous meeting with such an individual could mean a contract for you and perhaps the start of an ongoing business relationship. It is hugely important to be able to effectively communicate to prospects what you do, the problems you can solve or help them avoid and goals you can help them achieve. Doing this well makes you look like an expert who can be trusted. If the money and motive are there, you will be hired.

Poor follow-up or follow-through

Whether one is a Freelancer or traditionally employed, being reliable is a must. if you promise the client that something will be completed by a given date, then do that. Answer calls and emails ASAP, ideally on the same day and most certainly within 24 hours. Even if the client has not asked a question, anticipate what information will reinforce their confidence in and confirm that you are in control and meeting expectations by checking-in and giving periodic updates. Timely communication is reassuring.

Inadequate business development

Freelance consultants are always looking for the next assignment and that may mean helping a current or past client to create that assignment. During your project work, look for additional services you might provide, while their checkbook is open. Take a past client out for coffee and see if you can get back in there, weaving in your objective as you talk about how they’re doing.

Too shy to ask for referrals

Every business needs referrals and word-of-mouth endorsements from a source perceived as trustworthy are the best. The process of obtaining a referral starts with you providing excellent service that exceeds client expectations. Timing is also a factor. Asking for a referral while on the job and definitely not while you’re presenting the final invoice, is the preferred strategy.

Making a referral for the client, either while you’re on assignment or after the fact, will make you golden and increase the chances that the favor will be repaid, if the client knows a colleague who may need your services. Knowledge of the client’s business relationships can help you to tease out a referral. If you know that the client is active in a particular business or professional association and there is a prospect in the group that you would like to meet and try to work with, tell the client that you would appreciate an introduction.

Poor billing practices

If you want to get paid, you must invoice. On some projects, it’s wise to tell the client when you will invoice. If you do so, follow the agreed-upon schedule. Late invoices annoy clients and adversely impact your cash flow and financial management as well. Always describe or itemize the services delivered in your invoice. Specify how the check should be made out, include the tax identification number,  the invoice due date and the address to which the check should be sent.

Inadequate client relationship management

Freelancers need repeat business and that means nurturing relationships is a priority. Do what can be reasonably done to keep communicating with past clients.  Definitely, send December holiday cards to all those with whom you’ve worked in the past 5 years. If you encounter an article that you suspect will be of interest to a former or current client, send an email with the link, along with a friendly message. If a past client is speaking somewhere and you can afford the time and money to attend, do so. Take notes, so that you can ask a question that will make your client look good. Attention spans are short, so it is necessary to stay on the client’s radar screen if you expect to be hired again.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Have Composure, Keep Calm and Carry On

Sooner or later, we all must enter a room filled with our adversaries and it is no picnic. I must do exactly that on the evening that this post will publish. The event is quasi- social business and the attendees will be members of an organization in which I hold the highest leadership post. These colleagues belong to a separate, smaller subgroup of the primary organization and the subgroup has a separate leadership team. The subgroup depends on the primary organization for financial assistance and they are an entitled and self-aggrandizing lot.  My goal has been to limit the hand-outs they receive and oh, boy, are they resentful. So into the lion’s den I go!

I must be friendly and supportive of establishing a cooperative relationship between the two groups, yet let it be known that the primary group does not exist to be in service to the subgroup. I will need a big dose of composure and lucky for me, composure is a skill that can be practiced and mastered. Officers in the Marines are taught a communication style called SMEAC: Situation, Mission, Execution, Administration and Command, which goes a long way in encouraging the development of composure and control when vital information must be communicated to others. Those who perfect the SMEAC communication format learn to use precise, carefully chosen words to clearly express their message. SMEAC is now taught at the Harvard Business School.

On our own, it is possible to learn a precise and concise speaking style through observation and rehearsal. Get started by identifying those whom you consider to be highly effective communicators. You are listening for well-chosen words that carry impact. Next, select the two or three points that you must make your audience understand and then refine the language you plan to use. Boil down, clarify and simplify your message. Practice your speech out loud and as well, pay attention to your tone of voice and speed of delivery.

SMEAC works best when we have the luxury of preparation time, when we are scheduled to deliver a presentation. If you must make your points from a meeting table rather than from a podium, the agenda will allow you to choose and rehearse the points that you’d like to get across.

How we speak is a combination of presentation style, word choice, tone, speed and cadence. Maintaining composure is essential when we must speak formally to an audience, particularly when the audience is unfamiliar or potentially hostile. SMEAC is an excellent communication technique that is especially suited for crisis communications or other high-pressure, high-stakes public speaking engagements.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Media Training Gives You Media Savvy

Journalists are constantly on the lookout for interesting and engaging stories that will become the relevant content that consumers of their visual, print or online outlets seek out. Freelance consultants must always encourage the existence of confidence in our abilities and media exposure may be employed to help us to achieve that aim. We must become adept at the art of selling ourselves, that is our capabilities, to target audiences through various media channels. When we make ourselves available for commentary tin the media, we position ourselves in a very powerful way and assume the mantle of authority in our subject.

To maximize the benefits derived from your media exposure, explore ways that you might receive some media training.  Media training will make you much more effective in your interactions with journalists and the technology and teach you how to get your message across succinctly and with impact.  You will be on your way to becoming an effective spokesperson and journalists will return to you again and again for expert commentary on issues in your field.

Speak in a way that builds confidence in your expertise

Our body language, tone of voice and vocabulary help us to deliver our message in a positive and powerful way. When speaking on television, facial expressions and body language can overtake the value of verbal content. As example, think of political debates, televised or not. Many politicians have been declared the winner of debates primarily on their communication style. That their action items were noticeably weaker than their less glib opponent gets lost in the shuffle.

Learn how to best define and communicate your key messages

Being savvy with body language and facial expressions and knowing how to look into the camera are all good, but it’s even better when we have a relevant message or information that is communicated clearly and concisely. Media training will teach you how to speak in “sound bites” : short, easy to remember statements that focus on outcomes and information that concerns the audience, spoken in language that resonates with the audience. Three points seems to be the magic number that audiences will recall in days that follow the interview.  Once you’ve enumerated your messages, you can loop back and reinforce them throughout the interview.

Anticipate difficult questions and learn to design a clear and credible response

Journalists often take a perverse pleasure in throwing interview subjects a question that might stop them cold or undermine their message. The journalists want to maintain credibility with their audience by showing that they’ve done their homework and demonstrating that don’t traffic in powder puff interviews. Media training will prepare you for challenging questions and help you learn how to anticipate the difficult questions that might be asked and to finesse your way out of tight spots, whether or not you expected that line of questioning. This skill above all others will help you to feel confident as you step into the interview.

Learn how to control your interview

The interview subject is always in control. Media training will teach you how to assert your dominant position, graciously. First, those who have clear answers that are communicated well are able to steer the interview in a direction that benefits them.  This is a subtle and yet hugely important skill. One can never stop practicing. A very close second is that through media training, one learns to maintain composure, which is a defining element of trust, the appearance of competence and professional stature. S/he who maintains composure can create the outcome that is desired.

Reduce the chance of being misquoted

Under no circumstances do you want your message to be misinterpreted in any way. Being unprepared for an interview leaves one in a very vulnerable position. Credibility and reputation are at risk. Learning, practicing and perfecting the skills of defining the most important points of your message; delivering the message in “sound bites” that help the journalist as well as the audience to understand your position; learning how to control the interview;  and learning how to finesse difficult questions, all the while maintaining your composure, will make you an in-demand media darling whose brand and billable hours will be greatly enhanced.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Better Business Writing

The ability to write well is an asset and poor writing undermines the perception of one’s professional abilities.  Skilled writing is in great demand in the business world,  where content marketing and social media updates require Freelancers,  business owners and corporate marketing teams to write newsletters,  blogs,  white papers,  Twitter updates and press releases.

Some of us hate to write and we are intimidated by the prospect.  From time to time,  even good writers struggle to express their thoughts.  Submitted here are business writing tips that will help you to communicate your expertise to clients,  peers,  prospects,  hiring managers or potential business partners.

Purpose

What is your written communication meant to achieve?  Do you want to write a proposal,  a thank you letter,  a follow-up email that confirms agreed-upon actions that were discussed in a meeting,  or a message in a greeting card?

Inventory

It’s helpful to write down and list what you want to say,  in no particular order.  Don’t worry about vocabulary or grammar,  just grab paper and pencil and capture what information is necessary to convey your intentions.  Save the editing for later.

Concise,  complete and organized

Prioritize your subject matter and lead with what is most important and time-sensitive.  Write a first draft and do your best to express your information clearly and concisely.  If your communication is business,  you may choose to highlight the most noteworthy points in bullets,  so that the reader’s eye is drawn to them quickly.

Active voice

Business writing is all about action and you will convey your command of the subject or events that transpired when you write in the active voice.

Spelling and punctuation

Run the spelling and grammar check that is on your software.

Edit

Review and edit your writing and if time allows,  take another look anywhere from a few hours to a day or two later.  Allowing your writing to “rest” will sharpen your editing prowess.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

10 Ways To Reboot Your Email Marketing List

E-newsletters,  webinars,  Slide Share info-graphics and other email marketing content can go as flat as an open bottle of champagne after a while.  Business in the 21st century is sort of like show business,  folks.  Gypsy Rose Lee said it best,  “You’ve gotta have a gimmick”.  You need to know how to hold your audience.  For that matter,   you’d better know your audience well enough to recognize when they stop paying attention.

Assuming that the content you provide is relevant to potential readers and not just a 3 page sales pitch about you,  wonderful you,  there may eventually be a drop-off in the email open rate.  Attention spans are short and email in-boxes are filled to the brim with all manner of messages.  But you can’t afford to lose control of your “room”,  your list members.  Presumably,  that list is populated with clients,  prospects and referral sources.  They are the life blood of your business.  How do you win them back? Try these tactics:

1.   Examine your stats and identify who is not opening your emails.  Studies show that 60% of email marketing communications are never opened.

2.   Prune the list.  Facing up to audience members who have fallen out of love with you takes courage but like any love affair that’s over,  it is best to move on.  Resolve to remove the non-readers.  Carol Tice, who founded the Freelance Writer’s Den and maintains a formidable email list,  sends her non-readers an email and asks if they would like to remain on the list.  The overwhelming majority do not respond and their names are removed.  A handful ask to continue.  You will feel better when you do the purge.  You’ll have an open rate that makes you smile.  You will know that the creative energy and hard work invested in your content marketing will be appreciated.

3.   Ask list members to update their email information.  Your open rate could improve just by allowing readers to have communications sent to an alternate email address.  Those who don’t respond after a second or third reminder to update their info are clearly not interested and can be removed from the list.

4.   To maintain the interest of readers who remain,  especially if your open rate is dropping,  take a look at your subject line.  A well-written subject line is a siren song to potential readers.  See  headline hooks that reel in readers

5.   Include a tempting call to action and name it in the subject line.   A Survey,  free webinar (hosted by you or someone whose expertise you trust),  or a white paper on a subject of interest to your readers re-establishes your relevance and will persuade a certain percentage of non-readers and infrequent readers to click and engage.

6.   Think mobile.  In July 2014,  Forrester Research reported that 42% of emails from B2C retailers are opened on smartphones and 17% are opened on tablets.  Customize your email communications for responsive design,  so that reading will be easy on mobile devices.  Make it convenient for all potential readers to open your communications.

7.   Send on a regular schedule.  Frequent readers of this blog know that Tuesday is publish day,  even if Christmas or the 4th of July fall on that day of the week.  You may prefer to publish on a given date.   Whatever you do,  establish and adhere to a predictable publishing schedule.  Readers appreciate it more than you may realize.  Make readers anticipate receiving and reading your communications.

8.   Build your list.  Organically and with permission,  build your email marketing list.  You should have met each person on your list at least once.   At the email campaign launch,  send to all business contacts along with an introductory message that announces the debut,  explains the benefits to readers,  reveals the frequency (weekly or monthly)  and provides an easy and effective opt-out.  Resist the temptation to add to your list the names of everyone who hands you a business card.  When speaking with people,  do mention your email marketing campaign,  give examples of the subjects covered and how often you send.  Ask if they would like to receive at least one and let them know that if they choose to opt out,  that can be easily and quickly done.

9.   Personalize.  Whatever service sends out your emails should include a greeting to the individual recipient.

10.  Sign me up!  On your website and social media,  allow interested parties to sign up to receive selected email marketing communications,  register for webinars or receive a copy of any white papers.

Content marketing is the new advertising and emailing your content is the best way to reach clients and prospects who no longer answer the phone.  Create a viable list by continually adding and purging members to enable your campaigns to deliver optimal ROI.  Draw in readers with relevant content and intriguing subject lines.  Format in responsive design to include those who prefer to read on mobile device.  Fulfill expectations by publishing on a regular schedule.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Listen and Learn

We have two ears and one tongue so that we would listen more and talk less.”   –Diogenes

We love the sound of our own voice,  so much so that we sometimes don’t know when to shut up.   Talking is lots of fun,  especially for the extroverts among us.  Silence can be uncomfortable.   But we all know that listening is an important communication skill.  When we allow others to express themselves and tell their story,  we demonstrate that we care about them and that we value the quality of the information that they are sharing.

The benefits of good listening skills are significant.  Everyone loves a good listener and one invariably learns a lot by listening,  including who is worth listening to!  People will open up and sometimes say the darndest things and all we have to do is be there and show that we are paying attention.  It is ironic that saying and  (mostly)  doing nothing is such a vital component of relationship-building.  Yet listening is the foundation of bonding;  silently,  one demonstrates empathy,  telegraphs that another human being matters and creates rapport.  Fortunately,  the art of listening can be learned.

Attention, please

When listening,  give the speaker your undivided attention.  Nothing else demonstrates the level of respect that you have for another than this one act.  Let the phone go to voicemail,  close the laptop lid.   Sharing your valuable time with another and focusing your attention on that individual is so validating.  It is also a defining element of charisma.  Charismatic people are known to make whomever they are listening to feel as if only the two of them are in the room.   Demonstrate your laser focus with eye contact,   smiling or showing concern,  nodding your head and declining to interrupt,  except to ask a question or two that ensures that you understand what is being said.

Risk acknowledgement

As noted above,  when people start talking,   you might be floored by what is revealed.   No matter how you feel about what has been said,   maintain your cool.   Show that you are worthy of the trust that has been extended to you by way of the revelation.   Appreciate and acknowledge the risk that was taken by the speaker when the decision was made to confide in you.

Take notes

Always take notes when in a business meeting.   When you write as someone talks,  you demonstrate that the subject of the conversation is important to you.  The note-taking process also allows you to ask questions to ensure that you understand what has been said.  Within 24 hours,  send an email in which you thank that individual for meeting with you and confirm the agreed-upon next steps.

Achieve understanding

Stephen Covey (1932-2012),  author of the timeless self-help classic The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People  (1989),  noted that most people listen not to understand,  but to reply.  Be careful not to jump to conclusions or hear only what you want or expect to hear.  Perfect the art of listening and minimize miscommunication problems that can lead to costly mistakes or hurt feelings.

Listening is an art form that unfortunately,  is underrated.  Regardless,  the most compelling leaders,  the most successful sales professionals,  the most powerful negotiators,  the most charismatic people and those with whom we develop the most satisfying relationships are all active listeners.   Follow the advice of Diogenes and sharpen your listening skills by employing patience and self-discipline to your business and social conversations.

Thanks for reading,

Kim