Then to Be Understood: A Habit of Highly Effective Independent Contractors
So says Habit 5 of Stephen Covey's "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People". I am struck by just how much this simple rule might change the world for the better would we all decide to practice it just some of the time. And of course it applies to all phases of our lives, be it personal or professional. The beauty of it lies in its simplicity and seemingly utter complexity in putting it into play. So how does it impact you as an IT Consultant trying to make a living in the complex world of independent contracting and dealing with staffing agents and their myriad esoteric processes and procedures?
Start in Neutral -- How we respond to others is so often conditioned on our preconceptions of what we think is about to occur. I know that when I answer the telephone around dinnertime, and there is a significant delay before the other party speaks, that I'm likely about to engage with a telemarketer, and that brings about a whole set of responses, including how I'm going to disengage. But how many times have I been surprised to learn that when I just stopped and really listened, there was something valuable to be gained. When a recruiter calls, listen carefully to what they are telling you, about their client, about their requirement, about their practice. Instead of thinking that you know the game and this call will be the same as others you have received, it might pay dividends to start the call in neutral and determine next steps after you've had a chance to hear what is being said.
Stop Planning Your Response -- The single most common listening error is planning your reply while the other party is speaking. The aforementioned Telemarketers, especially the smart ones, often know exactly what you are planning to say and have a ready response to attempt to overcome your objections. It pays to be prepared for certain types of discussions but don't hijack a discussion because you are too busy planning your comeback. You may be risking an unnecessary misunderstanding because you couldn't stop your mind long enough to listen. Successful contractors learn to listen to what the client is saying, what is important to them and what they are trying to achieve...and your part in the process. Careful listening prevents risking prescription before diagnosis!
Practice Reflective Listening -- Repeating or affirming what you think you heard is the surest way of ensuring you understand completely what is being said by the other party. This is a skill so often talked about but so rarely used effectively. Part of it has to do with numbers 1 and 2 above... we have already planned the conversation out in our minds that we believe we know the outcome. Take a step back, listen carefully to what you are being told and then simply repeat it. Not only will it help you to gather the information you need, but it will act to slow down the process, something we could all use in our busy and hectic work days.
It's a Two-Way Street -- If you listen to someone, and are fully engaged and respectful, it should be that the other person owes you the same. Did you ever notice how off putting it was when a person you were meeting with glanced at their watch, or worse yet checked a phone email right when you were speaking. Negotiations go off course all the time simply because neither party really hears what the other person is saying. Mutually respectful discourse and working hard to listen and understand what the other person is saying is integral to any discussion. You owe it to yourself as a professional to practice your listening skills.