In television, being a good interviewer is not just about asking the right questions.
It’s about listening to the answer.
Some of the greatest television interviews happened not because the interviewer asked the right question, but because he or she asked the right follow-up. Just watch interviews by Barbara Walters or the late David Frost, both of whom extracted information from their subjects (Monica Lewinsky, Richard Nixon, Michael Jackson) nobody else could get. At moments more inexperienced interviewers would have glossed over, they would pause and ask, “why” or “how come.” And bingo – that would be the one great moment in the interview.
What’s amazing is that listening is one of the most underrated skills in the workplace and yet, one of the most important. It is the skill that can help you seal a negotiation, make you more amiable to your boss or simply win you friends. Jim Reynolds, the CEO of a boutique investment bank in Chicago, Loop Capital, told me he sometimes has to tap his sales guys under the table in a negotiation to get them to be quiet.
“The secret to effective selling is not the guy who goes in talking ‘I can do I this and I can do that and I can make your business better,’” he said. “That was never the guy who was the top salesman. The top salesman was always the guy that could ask leading questions and then listen to the answer. I learned this early on in my twenties and I’m still trying to teach it to my bankers.”
“Whoever is doing the real listening is improving the art of effective communication and that person will get even better,” he said.
Jim noted that the reason why listening was so effective in sales was because most people, without realizing it, will tell you what problem they need solved. If you just listen carefully enough, you can present the solution right back to them.
The same is true in negotiation. Most people will tell you what they need to get the deal done. If you listen to what they want, you can almost always give it to them, granted it is something you can give.
And in many ways, connecting to people is much about listening. True to human nature, almost all of us find that the most fascinating person on Earth is usually…ourself. If someone discovers you are willing to sit there and listen to that endless story about their dog, Clifford, then that person will think YOU are the most interesting person in the world. Try it with your friend/family member/spouse/boss. It is amazing what happens when you listen and even more amazing when you listen and repeat what they say back to you. Just watch their reactions.