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Jacky Sherman

The Consultant's Consultant

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Networking: The Art Of Being Interested, Not Interesting

Do you know how to really listen?


Posted by Jacky Sherman on 23/03/2022 @ 8:00AM

I have a friend who has been deaf in one ear since childhood. She is the one who taught me the power of body language when listening at networking events. People warmed to her immediately because she appeared to be really listening to them ...

Really listening to someone shows you are interested in what they have to say!

Really listening to someone shows you are interested in what they have to say!


Why? Because she would tip her head to direct the sound to her good ear and focused intently on what the other person was saying. She confessed to me that even then she didn't always pick up the whole conversation. That didn't matter, her speaker felt that she was really interested in what they had to say.

"Google abounds with good advice and networking tips!"

Most of these online tips stress the importance of listening to the other person. So how can you become a better listener when out networking, without bursting your eardrums to emulate my friend?

Concentrate on being interested rather than trying to be interesting:

  1. Get yourself in the right mindset before you even go out networking. Be sure your intention is to find out about the other people in the room. Remember, body language operates at a subconscious level, so if you're really focused and interested in the other person, then your body language will reflect this and the other person will automatically pick this up.

    Here are some examples from two very different people I know who have a very different style, but both have the right mindset.

    • Julie is a high energy extravert and a great networker. She loves going to big events where she doesn't know people and then with great aplomb works the room. Her approach to any networking event is "Oh goody! Lots of new people to get to know!"

    • On the other hand, Alan is more measured and quieter in his approach. He recently said to me "I'm not good at networking. I prefer to just talk to people and get to know them and have a good conversation finding out what we have in common." Sounds like a brilliant networker to me!

  2. Ask about the other person first. As your intention is to be interested in the other person, initiate the conversation by asking about them first.

    If you're a novice networker and find it hard to know what to say to strangers this makes it so much easier. All you have to do is make sure your questions are open questions which can't be answered with a simple Yes or No. At a business event after the immediate introduction I personally move swiftly to that good old standard, "What do you do?"

    If you're a natural chatterbox then it stops you from launching into your pet subjects before you find out whether the other person is likely to be interested.

    If you're with an experienced networker you can end up in a stalemate.

    Last week, I met online with someone for the first time recently having connected on LinkedIn. We had a bit of a friendly tussle about who would talk first as we both wanted to be the listener. It turned into a great icebreaker and once I gave in gracefully we were soon in a conversation.

  3. Clear your mind and focus on what they are really saying. In most conversations, we actually spend the time - whilst the other person is talking - to formulate our response. As our brains take processing time to formulate what we are going to say next this means we weren't really listening to them and definitely not responding to the last thing they said.

Here's an exercise to practice your listening skills. Ask a friend to let you practice on them. Ask them to talk about something that's on their mind for 2 minutes. Set a timer to ding when 2 minutes is up. Warn them that you are going to just sit and listen and will not say anything until the time is up.

  • Just sit quietly giving them your full attention.

  • Don't think about how you are going to respond or even if you agree or disagree with them. Try not to ask for clarification.

  • Don't be tempted to ask questions or encourage them if they dry up. Just carry on listening, they will fill any silence and start talking again.

  • When the 2 minutes is up, respond with whatever comes to mind at that time.

Now that listening technique is one that coaches master to a very high degree. In a networking conversation, it would seem a bit weird to say nothing for 2 minutes! However, this practice will help you wait a bit longer and let the other person say everything they want to say and ensure you focus on what they are saying.

As a rule of thumb in the real world:

  • Let the other person speak uninterrupted for as long as it takes.

  • Wait a bit longer than the first pause. Give them space to fill the vacuum.

  • Only respond once they've really dried up or if they have asked you a question.

  • Then respond with what comes to mind from what they have said.

  • If you have been paying attention something relevant will come to mind.

Even the more persistent of networking talkers will engage in a more two-way interaction after two to three minutes if you just listen first without interrupting!

If you try this listening exercise I would love you to share with me how it went for you. So have fun being interested in all the people you meet over the next week or so.

Until next time ...



Would you like to know more?

If anything I've written in this blog post resonates with you and you'd like me to listen to the challenges you have networking, it may be a great idea to give me a call on 07970 638857.

Let's have an initial chat over a coffee and see how I can help you.

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