Senior Vice President, Business Development
I’m 43 years old. Yet I can remember back to my days as a know- it-all teenager when my dad gave me a lecture about listening. He said 4 words that have stuck with me my whole life—“listening is a skill.” I didn’t really know what he meant at the time, and I’m sure I told him I understood even though I probably wanted him to stop talking so I could go back outside and play basketball.
Many people talk about having sports figures as their role models, but for me it was my dad. He was my role model. I wanted to be just like him. I looked up to him. I guess it’s funny that he is a lifelong salesman and I am now a successful sales professional myself. One thing is certain—my dad couldn’t have had the successful career he’s enjoyed as one of his company’s top sales reps if he didn’t spend his days listening to his clients more than talking at them!
All these years later I find myself hearkening back to that lecture from my old man. I have 3 children, one of whom is a 12 year-old boy. I can’t even recount how many times I’ve recited those same 4 words to my son. He insists he’s listening, but I know he isn’t. He might be hearing me or his mother when we lecture him, but he’s not listening. He’s young. He hasn’t learned what it means to truly listen. I can’t blame him. I was probably the same way, but I feel it’s my obligation to teach him to learn earlier than I did that listening is one of the most important skills he will develop as he continues to grow and eventually become a man himself.
American philosopher Mortimer Adler wrote more than 30 years ago something that holds true today:
“Is anyone anywhere taught how to listen? How utterly amazing is the general assumption that the ability to listen well is a natural gift for which no training is required. How extraordinary is the fact that no effort is made anywhere in the whole educational process to help individuals learn how to listen well.”
I spend my days in my role as Senior Vice President of Business Development at Rider Dickerson, working with clients in many industries, and my clients have needs that are very specific to their business goals. It’s my job to ask questions and listen so that I can learn what their challenges so I can discover how I can help my clients. Even better, if I ask the right kinds of questions and listen intently I should be able to help the client identify problems they didn’t even realize existed. Imagine the value you could deliver to your clients if you listened with such clarity that you could uncover underlying issues for your client—just think about the value you could add.
So the next time you are in a personal interaction with a colleague, client, friend or family member, make a concerted effort to pay attention to your listening habits. Are you really actively listening to what the other person is saying, or are you waiting for them to finish what they are saying so you can spit out your next thought? If you find yourself falling into the latter, try this little tip—wait for 3 seconds after the person with whom you are speaking finishes his or her thought before you respond. The little gap of silence might seem odd, but you won’t risk the chance of interrupting the other person, and you give yourself the opportunity to absorb what was just said to you.
Remember, listening is a skill, and like any skill it takes practice to improve. Start today!
Senior VP Business Development