You’re at a networking event with a group of new people who could be valuable connections. What’s the best way to hook them in and get them interested? You may be inclined to speak profusely about the value of your business and the work that you do, but wait just a minute. Talking too much is hazardous to your networking life. As it turns out, great listening skills may be the most important networking tool at your disposal.
It’s more than hearing.
When you’re engaged in conversation, are you busy thinking about how you’re going to respond to the person speaking? That is a fatal listening flaw. If you spend all of the time that someone else is talking caught up in your own head, you haven’t actually listened to what they said. Sure, you heard them talk but you didn't listen to what they said.
Networking is about connection. So is listening. The goal of both connection and listening is understanding. Sean Kim at Growth List emphasizes this distinction, explaining that, “The truth is, most of us are hearing to respond, when we should be listening to understand.” When we hear to respond, we can’t hear over the volume of our own thoughts.
Get the body language right.
It’s important that we listen and that the person speaking can see that we are listening through receptive body language. You want to appear open to the person who’s speaking. Avoid crossing your arms in front of you, as this can appear like a defensive stance.
Other stances to avoid include the adversarial hands-on-hips pose, as well as shifting from foot to foot, which can make you appear bored, according to Maren Hogan. Instead, try leaning a bit forward and maintaining comfortable eye contact. You’re not a statue. You can change positions and expressions in response to what you hear. Just be careful not to shift so often that you appear fidgety.
Clue into emotion.
One of the most important parts of a conversation to which you can respond is the emotional tone and content. Responding to emotions expresses engagement and begins to build relationship. In fact, failure to pay attention and respond to the emotional content of a conversation is a real disadvantage. As Careerealism's Ariella Coombs notes, not being attentive to the emotions in a conversation “can make you appear insincere or cold, which can hurt the conversation and/or your relationship with the speaker.”
Try this emotional reflection technique if you’re unsure how to appropriately respond to the emotions of the person with whom you’re speaking. Listen to what the speaker is saying, identify the feeling behind the statement and verbalize it. That will help you process what’s happening in the conversation while making the speaker feel truly heard and understood.
Choose your words with care.
Obviously, you aren’t going to build networking connections by not speaking at all. The key is to use your words with care and restraint. Save your words for crafting connections and displaying your strengths. Rather than blathering on about current projects, identify and articulate the skills you want to share. The team at CBTNuggets emphasizes that the key is to “make a case for your professional value that’s specifically relevant to your audience.”
Ultimately, pay attention to how much you’re speaking. If it seems like you’re dominating the conversation, step back and make room for others. Speaking too much can make you appear arrogant or self-centered, and those aren’t the characteristics of someone many people are eager to work.
Hearing to be heard.
Good listening skills are necessary if you want others to listen to you. No one listens to the person who interrupts and speaks over others, who’s clearly caught up in their own thoughts throughout a conversation. Rather, as listeners, we’re receptive to the people who also give their attention to us. Good listeners are also the people who are listened to when they speak. This is the golden rule of communication. If you can remember this, you’ll have mastery over the most important networking tool out there.