Listening is a vital business skill. Listening can be the deciding factor between a cohesive or fractured team, profit or loss, or long or short job tenure. Bernard Ferrari’s book, Power Listening: Mastering the Most Critical Business Skill of All, offers an overview of this powerful skill.
We all know people who are poor listeners. We may even exhibit some of these characteristics ourselves depending on the situation. Practicing self-awareness can alert us to when these crop up in our conversations. Ferrari identifies six types:
- Opinionator: listens only to confirm his beliefs, never doubts, can be intimidating or squelch others’ ideas
- Grouch: assumes nothing others say is valid, can be contemptuous
- Preambler: goes down side trails, asks questions containing her preferred answer, a one-way communicator
- Perseverator: talks on-and-on to sharpen his point and support his bias, self-serving
- Answer Person: offers an instant solution, seeks to impress with quickness and brilliance, needs to “save the day”
- Pretender: is not interested because he has reached a decision or is distracted
Ferrari goes on to suggest habits that we can practice to improve listening skills:
- Plan: know what you hope to accomplish in a conversation before you begin.
- Stay focused: set aside distractors and set a goal of keeping a running summary of the important points, seeking the right question to clarify as needed.
- Be respectful: act in good faith, with honesty. It can help to say so at the start, “Talking with you helps me think through our options and risks.”
- Be quiet most of the time: use the 80/20 rule – speak only 20% of the time. Keep your mouth shut; ask good questions. (Note: if there are two good listeners, it should be a short and effective conversation!)
While this is not groundbreaking information, I appreciated the first third of the book as a summary of types of listeners and listening habits. The remainder discusses listening skills for decision-making, improving performance, sorting information, and steering conversations. Ferrari offers examples of effective questions and uses stories throughout to reinforce his points.
The book is well-organized and comes with an index, which I find particularly useful. A reader who is looking for a review of listening habits and questioning tips will find a good summary and thoughtful ideas presented here.
As an introvert, I find the “be quiet most of the time” habit the easiest to practice. The challenge I continue to work on is keeping the summary of important points in memory, which lessens the distraction of writing down everything someone says in conversation.
What is your easiest habit to practice? How would you challenge yourself to improve?
Ferrari, B. T. (2012). Power listening: mastering the most critical business skill of all. Penguin Group, New York, NY.