The best conference tip I’ve ever gotten was from Susan Black-Beth at the IFA Leadership Luncheon in February. I always walk away from conferences with a few (soon-to-be-forgotten) great ideas, but Susan’s hit home and I’ve been thinking about it—and working on it—ever since.
If you’re in franchising, you know Susan. She became a Super Wash franchisee at something like 11 years old (an exaggeration but she was running a business at the age most of us were doing keg stands). And she’s now Super Wash’s COO and founder of the Dealmakers’ Summit. (She’s also a mom, a wife, well-dressed, adorable, NICE … and pretty much everything the rest of us strive to be. But that’s beside the point.)
Susan pointed out the way most people “listen” is by using the time while the other person is speaking to think of their own response. It’s human nature to want to fill in the blanks, to jump in and comment once you think you’ve got the gist of the story. But as Susan explained, when you’re trying to make a sale, learn about a business, or talk to employees or franchisees, trying to anticipate what someone is going to say and jumping in with an answer or comment can really hurt you. You miss the full story—sometimes the most important part of the story.
So I went home from the IFA and started paying attention to my own listening. I realized that more often than not, when someone was talking to me, I was off formulating my answer, thinking about my own experiences, guessing how she or he wanted me to respond, WELL BEFORE they’d actually finished speaking. I also realized when I didn’t do this, the end of their story (or question) was often NOT what I expected it to be. I couldn’t help but wonder how many of the “responses” I’d given over the years didn’t really address the needs of the speaker. How many conversations were cut short? How much critical information had I missed out on?
Since then, I’ve tried to make a conscious effort to stop anticipating and to start REALLY listening to what others say before responding, even if it means they finish and it takes me a second to formulate a response. I find myself being much more engaged, having much deeper conversations, and coming up with solutions and ideas that work rather than just feeling like I offered a routine response.
In my former life as a healthcare journalist, I learned the most important quotes in an interview often come when you think your source is done speaking—in that period of dead air before you jump in with your next question. Susan’s tip takes this skill a step further. It’s not just about giving people time to finish; it’s about being in the moment while they’re speaking. No matter how great a listener you think you are, I encourage you to try it—with your business partners, your leadership team, your spouse, your kids. You might be amazed by what you hear.