One thing that candidates often tell me when they’ve been interviewed by a company I work with is:
“I know a lot about the company now. But they didn’t ask me anything about myself.” Argh! I know exactly what happened in that interview. The hiring manager and others involved really wanted that candidate, so they spent the entire time “selling” the company and the opportunity. They completely forgot that the first rule of any engagement, whether it’s selling a product, creating a business deal or beginning a relationship, is to learn to listen.
It’s really clear when someone is just hell bent on making a sale and they inundate you with an avalanche of words. They don’t care about you. They don’t want to know who you are, what you need or whether what they have to offer will be good for you. They’re only interested in what will be good for them. They’ve decided you, or your money, would be good for them. That may work out if you’re selling a commodity or dealing with the three a.m. Ginsu knife crowd, but it doesn’t work at all well in terms of hiring or other professional relationships.
Conversations serve a lot of purposes. They establish trust and help both parties understand the value of what is being offered. They identify the status of the people involved. They’re also pools where the details of the transaction swim and they help people make decisions. If you don’t ask a candidate what’s important to him or her, for example, you may never understand that your slightly anemic salary offering is less important to this candidate than the fact that this job is only five minutes from home. If you’re so busy selling your “fun” culture you may never address this candidate’s reason for coming in in the first place, which is the chance to develop a certain set of skills on the job. You can miss the entire point of the conversation. This can certainly happen with sales, too. The person may not care at all about one feature but only be focused on the benefit you failed to mention, because you didn’t assess the person’s needs first.
Add to this the fact that your avalanche of words can be almost irrelevant, because most of us make decisions based on a whole lot of factors besides the features and benefits of what’s being offered. Research has shown we make decisions from an emotional place, the limbic brain, and only use the gray matter, thinking part of the brain, to justify a decision we’ve already made. So a lot of a person’s deciding to go forward when taking a job, agreeing to a contract or buying a product has been made in the first early seconds of the transaction based on how the parties make each other feel.
You’ve heard of that experiment where two strangers look into one another’s eyes for four minutes and ask a series of questions, after which they feel like they’re in love? That’s because the other person listened, intently, to what they had to say. Not because the person had an awesome sales pitch.
Of course, things can go the other way. If you don’t share at all, that can also hurt your ability to create trust in the conversation. People aren’t comfortable being transparent about themselves when the other person is guarded. It’s a delicate dance, as they say, and one of the most important you can learn in any endeavor involving other humans.
So try this out, pay attention, this week, to the conversations you’re in. How much time do you spend really listening (not just nodding and thinking about how clearly you can see this great candidate working out or how his tie is really ugly but actually listening) and how much talking? How much was your mutual understanding with the other person helped by your taking notice of these things? Do you think you really get what the other person is looking for?
And if active listening is really hard for you, call us. Preferably before you interview that prize candidate.
We work with companies on a project basis or on retainer, providing a custom level of HR help designed for your business, with offices in Austin, San Antonio, Dallas and Houston. Contact me at Caroline@valentinehr.com or call (512) 420-8267