I use this maxim every day when interviewing: create a neutral space and let the person talk into it.
Imagine your are a skiing instructor and endeavouring, first of all, to know your student’s level of ability. You might ask them to choose their piste category – green, blue, red or black and then observe their technique as they traverse the slope. This is the most valuable feedback as the student is making free decisions without directives.
Advanced listening is the same. It can be applied to most interactive situations to achieve varied outcomes. I use it to assess candidates in terms of levels of articulation, mentality, attitude and outlook. I used it as a Samaritan volunteer when people were seeking for help with their suicidal tendencies and I used it when visiting Broadmoor patients with severe personality disorders.
And here are the tips.
Depersonalise the conversation. Try to eliminate the word ‘I’. The interviewee is not coming to my office in Regent Street to find out about my life story. The person who has decided, with great courage, to call the Samaritan line is not interested whether I have had similar experiences and the Broadmoor patient is seeking a non-judgemental conversation with someone who is not a psychiatrist, clinical psychologist, social worker, psychiatric nurse or part of the Establishment. So focus the conversation in their space, the topics which interest them and give the person the time and space to freely volunteer their thoughts.
When we are about to meet someone new we might worry about what we are going to say, “We have nothing in common and in any case nuclear physics was not my chosen are of study.” Commonly when I am interviewing managing directors they will often, when describing their personality, tell me that they dislike making small talk at dinner parties.
I learned the power and positive effect of listening as a Samaritan volunteer. One of its core maxims is that the volunteer is dissuaded from offering advice. Strange, I thought. Surely that is why highly distressed people are contacting the Samaritans to receive expert advice. And yet to prove the wisdom of the maxim, caller after caller terminated the conversation by thanking me for my advice when I had contributed one or two neutral sentences throughout the hour- long conversation – the power of listening.
My blob, ‘Great communicator or great gasbag?’ will also give you another perspective on the development of strong communication skills which are so critical in today’s commercial environment of which active listening is the core component.