By: Connie Blaszczyk, Managing Editor, Resource Center
Knowing to be a better listener is a useful skill in many situations—it’s a particularly useful skill to have during the interview process as well as in the workplace.
In fact, says Bernard Ferrari, author Power Listening: Mastering the Most Critical Skill of All (Goldberg McDuffie Communications) being a better listener is the most important skill that one can learn in business.
In this interview, Ferrari shares his insights on how to interview candidates—not educate them—and common errors that we tend to make as listeners, no matter what the situation.
Monster: Experts recommend that job seeker do most of the talking in the interview process—which can be difficult. What mindset should the interviewee bring to the interview to accomplish this goal?
Ferrari: The one seeking the position should anticipate that they will bear the responsibility of answering questions which the job interviewer will be posing. But it is equally important for the interviewee to be prepared to ask questions himself or herself.
The best job interviews are those where both parties are learning and discovering. Not surprisingly, I found the least productive is one in which one party is dominating the discussion.
Monster: What are some of the most common mistakes that we often make as listeners?
Ferrari: The most common is not knowing what the conversation is about, what each party is attempting to accomplish. Some purposes are obvious but, if not, the initial back and forth should be focused on gaining a mutual understanding of the purpose.
There are 3 other common errors:
1) A lack of respect for one’s conversation partner. If you don’t have respect for what the other is saying, then not much listening is going to occur.
2) One is distracted. If you are thinking of something else, overwhelmed with emotion or involved in another task (put those I phones away), then listening will be impaired.
3) Mind-closing assumptions. The best listeners are those who are always challenging their most closely held beliefs. They are always willing to be surprised and willing to listening to others who are challenging their assumptions.
Monster: In your book, Power Listening, you quote Rudyard Kipling, “And yet don’t look too good, nor talk to wise,” as an adage to learning how to be a better listener. Can you explain?
Ferrari: The lesson here is that in business settings people often expend all their energy trying to prove they are the smartest or most articulate person in the room. If that is your goal, I can assure you that you will be the poorest listener in the room.
Monster: You talk about learning to listen with “the right kind of engagement," such as asking the right questions at the right time as a means of getting people to think about their own ideas with more depth. What is “the right kind of engagement”?
Ferrari: The right kind of engagement means being on task—understanding what the purpose of the discussion is and focusing on getting to the information being sought.
As business people, many of our discussions are not productive because we are clumsy in getting to what we need from the discussion. I’ve heard a common refrain: “But listening takes too much time.” My response is that it is not listening which will consume time since it often leads to faulty decision–making.
Monster: Interviewees often listen for particular responses from the candidate. You seem to advocate for being a more open-minded listener. Why?
Ferrari: If you are just checking boxes in a job interview, you will not learn much outside those boxes. I suppose that may be appropriate for filling some jobs. But if you are hiring problem solvers, people who will be exercising judgment and making decisions or managing others, you had better pay attention to what is being said and react with the right next question. You will then be successfully learning what you really need to know about a candidate.
Monster: How can managers teach their employees how to be better listeners–whether in the office, in interviews, or in their customer interactions?
Ferrari: This is a simple answer—model good behavior. Make better listening a common goal for your team. Encourage discussion about what works and most importantly invite feedback about how you are progressing.
Remember, you don’t have to be perfect, no one is. What is critical is that you are trying to become better. Most employees will then get with the program.
Bernard Ferrari is professor and dean of the Johns Hopkins Carey Business School. He is the chairman and founder of Ferrari Consultancy and a twenty-year veteran of McKinsey & Co. as a leader of the North American Corporate Finance and Strategy Practice and the firm’s Health Care Practice. Prior to his consulting career he was a surgeon and chief operation officer of the Ochsner Clinic in New Orleans.