Sounds of silence

Years ago I wrote a post about M&A negotiations in which I stressed the importance of using listening in the negotiation process. Last week I was talking about the importance of listening with Micah (not in the context of M&A – just in the context of life in general) when he said to me that he felt that listening, like many things in business, was an acquired skill (i.e., the harder you practice it the better you get).

I couldn’t agree more. There’s a real art to listening effectively and completely – one that’s harder to do effectively than it seems but can be pretty obvious to everyone around you when you’re not. I had a colleague once who had a very specific verbal tick – he’d start saying “right, right” when someone else was talking – a sure indication that he had something that he desperately wanted to say and that he had completely shut down listening. Eventually I figured this out (and even mentioned it to him) – and stopped talking when he did that as I knew I was just wasting my time until he got to get whatever it was he felt he needed to say off his chest.  It really sticks out to me as a reminder of both how clear it is to those around you when you’re not listening and how important it is to stop getting ahead of a conversation, shut down your need to respond to every point in real time and to listen to what’s being said around you.