HR & Management

The secret behind making people actually listen in a meeting

5 min read

16 January 2018

Have you ever felt that you've failed to make people listen in a meeting? Nods and the odd affirmation happen but, whilst you make a sound the words are not being processed by anyone.

How many times have you realised your mind wandered to what is next on the to-do list and you didn’t listen in a meeting? Always tricky when your attention is bought back with a question that you scramble to provide a coherent answer to!

Listening gives us so more than just data. As Epictetus said, we have two ears and one mouth so we can listen twice as much as we speak.

Listening connects us to others, we learn about someone’s passions and dislikes through not just what is said but how they say it. The subtle nuances helps us examine and challenge the information so we can improve our decision making and collaboration.

How do you feel when someone pays full attention to your words? When we experience this our neurological reward circuity lights up. We feel at ease and are more likely to want to give in return. The gift of really listening signals respect for the contribution and is a key driver of trust – it is the bedrock of any relationship and successful business.

So how do you influence others to really listen in a meeting? The key is to create an environment of trust that intrinsically motivates us to connect. There are known neurological drivers of trust and from these, here are a few ideas to put into practice.

Listen first

To be heard we must be prepared to listen first. We do not just listen with our ears, that’s only where the sound is funnelled. We listen with our brain. Anatomy deep in your mid-brain is continually assessing for friend or foe – safe and trust or threat? If we offer to listen first we establish us as “friend”.

What do they want to get?

Take time to really hear what each would like to get from your meeting. Establish up front that their contribution is going to be heard. You will have already started to switch on the reward circuitry.

Learn their name

It may sound obvious but make a point, if you don’t already know it, to learn names. Use names (not too often) at times in the conversation that are appropriate. Saying someone’s name lets them know that you have “seen” them.

Respect every voice

Value every contribution and opinion. Allow each person to speak, without fear of recrimination. Start from a position that each individual’s intention is good. Giving time for others to talk will be reciprocated when it’s your turn. In every conversation we assess our relative position to others. Our sense of self-worth is profoundly influenced by the degree to which we perceive others rank us.

Quoting psychologist Daniel Goleman: “Threats to our standing in the eyes of others are remarkably potent biologically, almost as powerful as those to our very survival. After all, the unconscious equation goes, if we are judged to be undesirable, we may not only be shamed, but suffer complete rejection.”

What is your body saying?

So much of what we convey is based on our tone, facial expression and body language. When we are engaged in conversation our body language tends to reflect that of the other. It is non-conscious and driven by neurons in our brain that support mirroring and empathy. So, watch for body language. As you listen to others establish trust by subtle mirroring – be careful though of direct imitation!

In meetings where trust is established debate can happen. Without trust conflict appears. If you can establish trust from the start of every conversation you will have a far greater chance for meetings where listening actual happens.

Susanne Jacobs is author of DRIVERS (£14.99, Panoma Press)