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The Best Way to Make an Impression

First things first: shut your mouth.

“You’re not listening.”

“Yes, I am.”

“What did I just say?”

“Yeah, I know. You were talking about that thing. You know, the thing ... ”

(Frustrated stare.)

Heard that before? It’s an all-too-familiar conversation that takes place in partnerships— romantic, familial, professional or otherwise. It may not come out in these exact words, but the core problem of not listening well can often become a source of great strife that may eventually lead to a parting of ways. Our failure to listen clearly communicates our disinterest in and lack of focus on the things that the other party believes are important.

Keep in mind that hearing someone is a far cry from actually listening to him or her. Listening well is both an art form to develop and a skill to refine. It is an area we must all regularly work on.

Although I am the last one to claim expertise in this area (just ask my wife), I’ve learned and incorporated a few things into my life that have made me a better listener. The following little tweaks I’ve made along the way have made a world of difference in my ability to communicate effectively with other.

Pay attention to names

OK, I know what many of you are thinking: “I’m just not good at remembering names.” I get it. It’s impossible to remember all the names of the people we meet. Right?

The problem is not so much that we have an inability to remember every person we meet. Rather, I think the problem is that some of us have given up on the notion of even trying to remember the names of others. I used to embrace this kind of thinking. Finally, after several embarrassing “What’s your name again?” conversations, I decided to develop a strategy for remembering names. Here are some things I do that help me recall the names of people I meet.

Repetition. I try to use the name of the person I’ve just met several times during that initial conversation. I have found this repetition dramatically increases my ability to remember that person’s name later.

Write it down. I will often enter the person’s name, along with some key words that will remind me of the conversation, directly into my phone—even while we are still meeting. Be sure to tell the person you’re speaking with what you are doing so that they don’t think you’re texting someone else.

Replay. I’ve found that sharing with someone else a brief synopsis of a conversation I’ve just had really helps solidify the details of the conversation in my mind—including the names of the people involved. You can’t do this all the time, but when possible, it’s a good exercise that works.

Stay present. Don’t be that guy who scans the room during a conversation for bigger fish to move on to. Not only does this suck for the person speaking with you, but you will miss out on the opportunity at hand. You know what I’m talking about. The whole “I’m too cool for this conversation, so I’ll look for someone else” attitude will ultimately backfire on you.

Don’t engage people if you’re not going to be present both physically and mentally. Keep in mind our bodies communicate as much as our mouths. If you’re not interested, excuse yourself and walk away. Don’t act like you’re interested and waste people’s time. Being present also requires eye contact. This is a common courtesy everyone deserves. Train yourself to maintain eye contact and remain present during your conversations. The rewards are worth the effort.

Ask clarifying questions

One of the best ways to engage others is through great questions that clarify what the person is trying to communicate. This is especially important in conversations about collaboration. Asking questions such as, “Would you mind clarifying what you mean by that?” or “Would you give me an example of what you’re referring to?” will help crystallize the other person’s intent and expectations. Asking clarifying questions also communicates your deep level of interest in the person. This can help build strong credibility and trust in the relationship.

Listen to the why and not just the what

People don’t usually say all of what they really mean to say or want to say; generally, a lot is held back in conversation. On the other hand, some of the things said in frustration or pain are rarely as bad as they initially sound. You have to listen for what the person’s heart is trying to communicate—not just the words used. Try to assess the context of the conversation, and put yourself in the shoes of the one communicating. I’m reminded of what Indian philosopher Jiddu Krishnamurti once said: “So when you are listening to somebody, completely, attentively, then you are listening not only to the words, but also to the feeling of what is being conveyed, to the whole of it, not part of it.”

Take good notes

When appropriate, take notes when talking to others. This will keep you engaged and focused on the conversation. Taking notes uses additional senses, which will help you better absorb and process what’s really being said. Don’t relieve yourself of the responsibility of taking notes; it is an opportunity to be more engaged in developing a relationship.

Don’t talk too much

I know it sounds self-evident, but don’t take over the conversation if your goal is to listen better. As far as I can tell, talking prevents you from listening well.

Consider what Oliver Wendell Holmes once said: “It is the province of knowledge to speak, and it is the province of wisdom to listen.” Listening well is an important part of collaboration and takes intentional effort to develop. If done well, it will open up a new world of relationships and opportunities.

Excerpted with permission of the publisher John Wiley & Sons, Inc. from Good Idea. Now What? How to Move Ideas to Execution by Charles Lee. Copyright (c) 2012 by Ideation Consultancy, Inc.This book is available at all bookstores and online booksellers.



Anonymous commented…

Totally agree Melody!I suppose some of this depends on one's personality.I think it's helpful to let them know why you're taking notes, especially if you feel they are comfortable with you. In most cases, I'll let them know that I'm jotting something down because I thought it was insightful or it's something I'd like to look up later.

You'll ultimately have to determine when this is "appropriate". :)


Michael Green commented…

I had a professor in college who did most of these. He became my mentor because I knew he always would listen and care. I've tried to make this a part of my life but its a hard habit to break into. I read this and thought, "I wonder if Dr. Caffey read this..." Thanks for the article!


Mike Lehr commented…

Great to see this excerpted here Charles! I am really enjoying Good Idea. Now What? and love your heart for helping people move ideas to reality. Your advice is always practical, helpful and easy to apply.


Jemmy_1413 commented…

Such a good article! Took notes while I was reading it.


Daren Sirbough commented…

This is great. There should be another post called, "Knowing when to talk".

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