Trust Tip 14: More Hard Talk about Soft Skills

Last week I suggested that listening was the necessary condition of most forms of persuasion: if you want to convince someone of something, you’re best advised to listen first to what they have to say.

Here’s how Thomas Friedman put it:

People often ask me how I, an American Jew, have been able to operate in the Arab/Muslim world for 20 years, and my answer to them is always the same. The secret is to be a good listener. It has never failed me…Never underestimate how much people just want to feel that they have been heard; once you have given them that chance, they will hear you.

Friedman’s insight echoes that of the Dean of Influence, Dr. Robert Cialdini; more on him and the link to trust another time.

I also suggested last week that the best form of listening is simple: to pay attention. Full, complete, dedicated paying attention. Not active listening, or body mirroring, or great questioning: just paying rapt attention.

The problem with paying attention is: how can you pay complete attention and still think about what you’re going to say next?

You can’t.

But what you can do is to change your manner of thinking to enable listening by paying attention. Specifically, to think out loud. By that I mean literally verbalizing our thought process in the presence of the person we just listened to.

Thinking out loud allows us to postpone thinking until after we’re done paying attention. And it does even more than that. By articulating our thoughts even as we are formulating them, we allow the other person to have a window into our thinking—a fairly radical form of transparency, when you think about it.

By being so transparent we are also living collaboration; if I am willing to let you in on my thinking, I am implicitly inviting you to join in, to correct me where wrong and to add to and participate in my thinking.

Those who already do this tend to be people who are very successful, and who are very secure in themselves, comfortable with what they don’t know as well as what they do. To listen in this way—particularly to think out loud—takes a certain personal courage; or maybe just self-acceptance.

Either way, it’s the ability to lower our own self-orientation and focus on the other person.

And that’s pretty bedrock stuff. No wonder it works.