A few days ago while having lunch at a local grill, a young guy sat down beside me. Shortly, we were engaged in a fast and hot conversation and I found out that he was a residential architect and he learned I was an executive coach. Learning that I too was fascinated by architecture, he began to quiz me about my specific interests and background. Finding that I grew up in metropolitan Detroit in the ‘forties and ‘fifties, he wanted to know about some of the great residences near the still-beautiful Fisher building on Woodward Avenue. An enlightening conversation about the monstrous costs and impossibility of building such magnificent homes today followed.
As he began to leave nearly an hour later, he asked one question I’d heard before: “what’s the most important communication rule I need to know for my business?” “Well,” I responded, “not the talking I’ve been doing here. Instead, ask a couple highly relevant questions and listen, listen and listen. Then clarify the responses with another question or two, and listen, listen, and listen some more. At the end of an hour you’ll know a great deal of highly useful client information.” He nodded in very strong affirmation.
Listening is frequently and sometimes naively associated with only information gathering about tasks and the background of an individual. Often the more important information from listening is assessing the talker’s intent or motives—what that person is trying to achieve. Many times the partner’s goals and motives are not explicit, sometimes purposefully kept private. Over time, listening can enable us to figure out why...