As an entrepreneur, you've probably developed your emotional intelligence to some measure of success. Yet there is one component of EQ that I notice still needs practice, even among my most successful entrepreneurial colleagues: listening. The practice goes well beyond the simplified difference between "listening" and "waiting for your turn to talk."
"Waiting for your turn" implies a preoccupation with your own circumstances and your own opinion, to the detriment of truly tuning in to the person with whom you're speaking. On the other side, real listening communicates a level of empathy and compassion for the words and the emotions that are being expressed to you.
These past few weeks I've noticed several occasions during conversations with business colleagues and potential clients when true listening was of significantly greater service than the "waiting for my turn" mode of listening. In each case, there was a layer of relating emotionally that needed its turn in the dialogue. Then, and only then, did we move on to the business matter at hand.
One colleague, for example, is facing new cancer diagnoses in her family that needed its turn as a focus on attention; only after talking about it did we move onto the media opportunity that brought us into conversation that day. Another colleague recently lost a beloved pet; only then, after discussing that loss, did we move onto the speaking engagement that was on the table. A third colleague had been up for a promotion that he didn't get; only then, after commiserating, did we move onto the proposal that's still falls under his professional responsibility.
These three examples reminded me of a piece of advice from a valued mentor: people do business with people. We are not automatons, not as entrepreneurs and not as clients. We have emotional needs to be seen and heard.
Here are three suggestions for doing that better.
You don't need to fix it.
You're an entrepreneur. By definition, you identify a problem and then work to develop a solution.
Compassionate listening, however, doesn't operate with "fixing" as its default mode of operation. It doesn't jump in with "I can help!" even if, in fact, you may be able to. Truly compassionate listening absorbs quietly and steadily, and sometimes over a period of time, the words and meaning of our counterpart.
In practice, this involves intentionally quieting the voice inside your head that's twitching to "solve" or assuage the challenge. Often there is no solution; more importantly, your counterpart isn't likely asking us for one. What they're asking, implicitly, is simply to listen.
Relate mentally more than verbally.
It's natural to try to relate to what your counterpart is saying, and to commiserate with their experience. That logically means mentally paging back through your own experience in order to find the points of commonality, when you may have felt something similar: the loss of your own beloved pet, for example, or your memory of being passed over for a promotion in a previous role.
That's a natural and beneficial part of the process. It also isn't necessarily one that you need to articulate out loud. Be careful about adding your own "two cents" to the conversation in a way-- or to an extent-- that detracts from your counterpart's expressing their experience. Keep in mind that this isn't about you.
Get down to business, eventually.
At some point in the conversation you need to move on, and address the business at hand. Be patient and let that point arrive organically. If it becomes necessary to steer the conversation in that direction, do so gently.
Go the extra mile, and make a note to circle back to your colleague in order to touch base on the issue that had been troubling them.
We're rarely given the chance to learn active, compassionate listening in a business situation. There are plenty of opportunities to practice mindfully, however, with the end goal of being not only a better colleague or partner but also a better person.