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Networking 101 – The Art of Listening

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I must confess, I am having a real hard time of it lately – getting people to actually listen to the whole sentence, that is, before they jump right in and answer the question that I did not ask or worse make an assumption on something I haven’t said or even make a statement regarding something that is not even on the table. It’s really quite challenging and even more annoying and the result, at the moment is that people who actually want referrals and/or work from me are not getting it because of this. All because they won’t listen and are in such a hurry to say what it is that they perhaps think I want to hear.

Let me give you an example – I am currently running a whole bunch of workshops that are geared for the SMME and entrepreneur markets. There are about 9 of them that will be run as collaborations through several of the chambers and the result is that each workshop will need to be facilitated 5 times next year through each of the 3 chambers. That’s a total of 15 times for each of the 9 workshops, gives me 135 workshops to co-ordinate and plan before I even look at the other work that I have to do. Fortunately I will only be facilitating 30 of these myself. I was looking for someone to facilitate a specific workshop and received a call from a chap who is the brother of one of my colleagues, who works in the particular field that I was looking at.

His first question was ‘so how much will you pay me a day?’ Fair question – as I proceeded to tell him that because it was aimed at start-up businesses and entrepreneurs that I was looking to keep the cost of the workshop just below R1500 . . . . before I could say anything else he jumped in and said that I would not get anyone to work for that amount of money! Of course my sentence was not complete and the rest of it would have gone on . . . per delegate and we would like the numbers of delegates attending to around the 20 to 25 per workshop to keep it intimate and informal and that most of the other facilitators were being paid in the region of Rx and would that suit him? I took a big breath of air and asked him to please stop talking and just listen for a minute to let me finish my sentence. He didn’t of course and just carried on about the R1 500. After a few minutes of listening to how unreasonable I was, I just said that if and when he was prepared to actually listen to what I had to say he could call back and I put the phone down. Now, answer me honestly – would you give any work to this person? If he couldn’t even let me finish a sentence before jumping right in, how would I know if he actually would be listening to a) my requirements in terms of what I would need from him like ‘course material’, projectors etc., and even more scary, b) how would I know if he would actually listen to any questions that the delegates may ask? I mean the whole point of these workshops is to provide information to and for small business owners, entrepreneurs and start ups – what benefit would they get if their questions were not answered properly?

This often happens when I am at a Networking event too and it really becomes a conversation killer – I tend to just walk away these days! Oh yes, I know that we are supposed to ‘mellow’ with age, but I seem to have gone in the opposite direction – I have just become more cranky and cantankerous or maybe it’s just because I am fed up with people not only wanting access to my database and my intellectual property, but who are intent on wasting my time and as I am sure most of you will agree, the older we get the less time we seem to have.

So when Networking (in fact when having any kind of conversation) try listening for a change. It will open up a world of possibilities, not only in the information that we are going to be getting, but also in the number of ‘intelligent questions’ that we will get to ask. Further issues can be properly clarified and points raised that may never otherwise have seen the light of day.

As much as I understand that it would mean a ‘mind shift’ or even an ‘attitude adjustment’ in terms of our habits, it would be well worth the efforts and the returns would be greater. Actually, whilst I am on the subject of ‘attitude’, perhaps a regular check on what our attitudes are and whether they need a small tweak or a large kick up the rear end may well be to our advantage.

Take a good long, hard look in the mirror every morning and see whether your attitude needs to be changed – and if it does, do something about it there and then – it’s something we all need to do on a regular basis