When I was in my Masters of Social Work program, a popular term was “active listening.” “Active listening?” I initially thought, “I’m getting a graduate degree to learn how to listen?” Though I soon realized I probably wasn’t as good of a listener as I thought I was, and I certainly was not always an active listener.
Active listening takes work. Often when we listen, we are not fully focused on what the other person is saying. We are instead thinking about what we are going to say next. We can’t wait to tell a story about ourselves that we think relates to what the other person is telling us. We, too, were recently laid off. We, too, had a crazy boss.
To listen actively is to be fully focused on what the other person is saying. It’s having a sincere interest, keeping your judgments to yourself, and making space for the other person to safely express what they are thinking and feeling. Active listening is to take in more than just the words; it’s to plug into nonverbal queues and the tone of how things are said. It involves reflecting back what you hear your conversation partner saying. For example, if you’re talking with someone who is explaining how they wrangled with the decision to go back to work after their first child was born, an active listener may say, “It sounds like making that decision caused you a lot of heartache,” instead of saying, “My sister-in-law had the same experience.”
Try listening actively when you’re making new connections. You already know your own story; take time to listen to what other people have to say. You will find out a lot more information about the other person you are speaking with, and he or she will be more invested in making a connection with you if you have demonstrated a genuine interest.
Though active listening involves taking yourself out of the equation, to make a networking connection, you need to be able to communicate how your story relates to the person you’re speaking with. If you have taken time to listen first, you will have a greater understanding of how your two stories relate.