Earlier this spring I spoke to a group of university seniors and graduate students. They want to know what they need to be successful when they enter the world of work.
You can probably guess that my first answer is the ability to listen because it’s at the heart of influence, creating relationships, dealing with complaints, and demonstrating empathy.
My second answer is process skills—the ability to participate in and manage group conversations. Individuals can improve their influence and impact by sharpening their process skills.
Here are six reasons why doing so is a worthwhile investment of your time. Much of this first appeared in an article I wrote for Harvard Business Review.
- You’ll set yourself apart. The ability to manage conversations so they are productive, inclusive, and focused on getting work done is an organizational skill that transcends expertise. Being really good at a core discipline (say, marketing, business development, or social media) is important, but being an expert only gets you so far. If you can add the ability to facilitate conversations to your repertoire of skills, you’ll add more value to your organization.
- You’ll gain stature. Your colleagues will respect your ability to make their time in meetings productive—even more so if you can manage the conversational processes with very little attention on your own views. You are not doing this to get noticed, but it never hurts to be known for having a critical skill set.
- You’ll create productive relationships. The entire process of determining what should be on the agenda and interacting with colleagues about the best way to have a successful meeting gives you insight into what matters to people. Relationships are built on a series of conversations where people can express themselves fully and be heard. If you can do this, you’ll build a network that you can depend on outside of the meeting as well.
- You’ll enhance your powers of observation and learn to stay out of the conversation. Managing a meeting requires careful attention to the dynamics in a room—for example, whether someone needs to be brought into the conversation or an action item needs to be assigned or the discussion has gone off track. Facilitating a meeting also requires learning to withhold your own ideas and questions and focus on the input and thoughts of others. Many of us need practice at interrupting less, listening more deeply, and resisting the urge to turn the conversation to our own views or experiences. These are important leadership skills in and out of meetings.
- You’ll become valuable beyond your own group. If you become known in the organization as someone who can manage conversations effectively, you’ll likely be asked to help with other meetings. You may not be interested in becoming a professional facilitator, but even leading one or two meetings a month for other parts of the organization will build your network and knowledge of other functions.
- You’ll contribute to your boss’s success and respect. Offering to design and lead the next meeting for your manager is a gift in several ways. Many managers simply don’t have the time to determine what needs to be on the agenda and how best to get the broad participation required for alignment. Being able to focus intently allows the manager to pick up on the nuances people express, verbally and nonverbally, and to listen for any organizational perspective or background the group needs.
Trust and respect are based in our ability to be effective in conversations, including meetings. It might be time to devote yourself to mastering group conversations.
Listening is a master skill for personal and professional greatness.
—Robin S. Sharma, Canadian author