How to use active listening to make the best impression in your next meeting
I recently met with a very talented founder who is interested in the career space. His background was amazing, full of startup acquisitions and an impressive list of investors. After our initial introductions, he described a product he was working on that might be very useful to my audience. The idea was fascinating to me, and I was so excited about the possibility that this product would be available to my audience. By the end of our conversation, I was even thinking about a number of introductions that would be useful for him. Before saying goodbye, he stopped for a minute and commented, “I can tell you are a very good listener.”
This was good to hear, and it’s also a product of a process I’ve made up for myself in what I call “download meetings” - meetings where you are there to learn about a person or product. At the end of a download meeting, I want to figure out a way I can be of value. Part of my method is employing active listening. Alison Doyle wrote a great article about it, with examples. The other part is specific to download meetings, and can really come in handy when meeting with your new colleagues in your first 30 days at a new job.
Employ the basics of active listening
If you haven’t practiced active listening before, it’s really one of the best soft skills you can learn for your professional and personal lives. Anne Loehr links active listening to emotional intelligence, and emphasizes the importance of a lifelong practice of continually improving your EQ. I love her summary of active listening: “There are five parts of communication — what’s said, what’s not said, words, tone of voice and body language. Active listening is the process of fully attending to all parts of someone’s communication.” For a good primer on the basics of active listening, I highly recommend both Alison and Anne’s articles.
For more meeting advice: The five most important questions to ask your CEO at your new job.
Prepare beforehand by thinking about the right questions
In some cases, like the first month at a new job, you have the opportunity and to research and prepare ahead of time. I highly recommend this approach, as it frees you up to actively listen during the live conversation. If you’ve recently started a new job at a startup, I’ve suggested some questions for your first meeting with the CEO here. Once you are in the meeting, you can tailor your questions to the direction of the conversation.
In a new position, you will have dozens of first meetings while you learn about your company, team, and product. The best way to integrate all those conversations and set a direction in your new role is to create a 30/60/90 day plan. I’ve created a template for your plan, and you can download it by signing up below.
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Use categories to organize your thoughts when the pop up as you are listening
I always struggle to actively listen during meetings when I have some great solutions to the problem the person is posing, or a potential introduction that might of use to them. It feels like I might lose the thought, or that the appropriate moment to mention my solution will pass. To avoid this issue, I categorize my thoughts to hold on to them. For example, when I was talking to this founder, I thought of three different categories for all the ideas that popped up as he was speaking.
First, I had a list of people that would be mutually beneficial for him to meet, so I tucked those away under “introductions.” Second, I could think of many more applications for his product idea, so that was “applications.” Lastly, I had some thoughts on customer acquisition, and who would make great initial testers for his product. Those were stored under “customer.” Once I had my meta list, it was easy to actively listen. When he was finished, I told him I had three ways I could help, and we had in depth discussions on each. It was so productive!