If I were to ask you the most important skills for technical consultants, I bet a bunch of technical tools and programs would come to mind. While these types of hard skills are valuable, it’s just as important to perfect your listening. Did you hear me? Knowing all the technical skills in the world is useless if you misunderstand the client’s problem.
Countless opportunities exist to listen and to help others listen to you. I have found the following tips helpful in getting the most out of my workplace communications.
I recently attended a soft skills training at Triverus where a major takeaway was “listen to understand, not to respond.” In our excitement to make our own point, thoughts of exact phrasing can distract us as the other person is talking. If I’m worried about forgetting that perfect rebuttal, I make a note to go back to it later.
We can all think of examples of a time when someone appeared distracted when we were talking. Think about how frustrating that was. Nobody wants to be remembered as that person- it affects how your client perceives you and the company you represent. Focus on maintaining eye contact, sitting upright, avoiding interruptions, leaving your phone alone, and more importantly leaving your phone on silent. If you plan to take notes on your phone, give everyone a head’s up so they do not think you are texting or surfing.
Some people are masters at taking down copious notes while staying engaged in the conversation. I find it useful to jot down the main points, topics I want to revisit, and action items. I also like to put a checkbox next to notes that require a follow-up as an easy visual reminder.
If writing or typing notes takes away from your ability to listen, one suggestion that came out of our training was to record the meeting,with consent and assurances of confidentiality. You can also list the main points that you would like to cover before the meeting and cross them off as they’re addressed.
Give your audience a concise summary of what you hope to cover by setting an agenda in the invitation and reiterating it in the beginning of the meeting. If you notice the conversation going off track, bring your audience back by referring to the agenda at hand. After the meeting, sending a summary of the main points as you understood them opens a dialogue with anyone who may have understood them differently.
Be careful of speaking in jargon, acronyms, or abbreviations that can often sound like foreign language. This also goes for the nitty gritty technical details that excite us but may put our audience to sleep. On the other hand, if your client uses company-specific lingo, consider incorporating their lingo to show that you understand the business.
Keep written words to a minimum in presentations. Verbally explaining your concise bullets keeps the audience engaged in what you are saying as opposed to reading. Use visuals that help to communicate what you are saying, such as charts and graphs. Most importantly, state your points clearly and as concisely as possible.
I hope these tips help you to communicate better with your clients and colleagues so that you can spend more time using those fun technical tools to solve the right problems.