10 ways to be a better listener

Communication is not a one-way street. While speaking is a crucial part of effective leadership, its counterpart – listening – is often overlooked.

As many as one in four corporate leaders find out they could be better listeners in 360-degree feedback, according to the Harvard Business Review. Listening is a skill which can have a major impact on a company’s fortunes.

One thing I’m still learning in my career is the power of silence. When I was younger, I always believed that unless my lips were moving, I wasn’t contributing.

I just hoped that whoever was at the receiving end of my verbal bombardment was able to pick out the useful bits.

I’m by no means an expert at listening or being silent, but I hope these ideas on how to be an effective listener are helpful.

  1. Choose the right place

Finding the right environment is key – a café, a sofa or a quiet corner are all better than a formal office, boardroom, or meeting room. Create a situation where they feel comfortable to open up. Likewise, sitting next to them will create a more intimate situation without being face-to-face, which can appear separated and confrontational. I find kitty-corner (two sides of a corner of a table) the most effective layout.

  1. Ask questions, but don’t interrupt

Ask lots of short questions, which are designed to give long answers. Such as, ‘Tell me more…’, ‘Why?’ and, ‘What prompted that approach?’ Then let them answer fully before you ask another question. I know lots of people who think they are good listeners because they ask questions – but then blow it by asking a follow-up question before the previous one has been answered fully.

  1. Look at them

Watch their body language. Look them in the eye. Give the other person your undivided attention: make them feel that there is nothing more important in the world to you at that moment.

  1. Show empathy

Understand their perspective without taking over the conversation. Saying, ‘Yeah, the same thing happened to me’ and then launching into your own personal story is not listening. It’s taking over the conversation and making them listen to you.

  1. Don’t problem-solve immediately

You don’t need to jump in and try to ‘solve’ the situation, nor do you need to necessarily resolve every comment. At the end of the conversation, it may be useful to wrap up with some actions, but jumping into solution mode immediately isn’t good listening.

  1. Take notes

Taking notes is a great way to shut yourself up. It’s hard to talk and write at the same time, writing things down makes the other person feel they are important, and often while you are writing – and the room is silent – they will say more than they originally intended. Let them fill the silence.

  1. Stay on-topic

Stick to the topic they want to discuss. This is about them and their topics of interest, not you and yours.

  1. Keep it secret

Remind the person that – if appropriate – your conversation is confidential and you won’t betray that trust. A good listener talks little. Loose lips sink ships.

  1. Give them time

Find the right moment and allow enough time for the conversation. You can’t give someone a good listening to in five minutes. It takes time.

  1. Ditch the tech

When your phone starts flashing, it becomes the centre of attention – not the other person. So keep your tech out of the room.


By Stephen Welch

Former IABC President

I knew this day was coming

As soon as I said yes, well over a year ago, to become Mike’s number two I knew that the day when I would have to step up as President of IABC UK would come round soon enough. And on Wednesday evening, with brilliant blue skies and the beautiful London skyline providing a wonderful backdrop for our AGM, I became President of the UK chapter of the IABC (International Association of Business Communicators).

The beauty of getting involved with a professional association such as IABC is that there is built in continuity. You sign up for a three year term, a year as President-elect, a year as President and then a year as Past President. The continuity has come from a succession of great teams. For the year just finished it is right to pay tribute to Kira Scharwey who has completed her three year term and to Mike Pounsford, who has been an inspirational president, leading from the front and giving me a great base to build on.

And we have an exciting year ahead. We have a great Board (names below). Several new faces adding to the majority of last year’s team. These are people who come from a range of roles across the communications sector, and who are passionate about communications and how we can help improve the profession.

I want us to continue focusing on delivering value to our members, something we’ve tried hard to do over the past year, for example not charging members to attend events. We need to keep challenging ourselves to improve our offering thereby encouraging comms professionals to take out a membership because they value what they get for it. That doesn’t just mean the events we run either, but access to so much more, including mentoring (either providing or receiving), recognised certification, a new corporate membership offer, a fantastic wealth of resources and seminars, as well as the Gold Quill awards process and probably a bunch of other things I’ve not mentioned.

This year I judged for Gold Quill for the first time. If you don’t know about them then I can only recommend you find out. I was so impressed by the way Gold Quill sets out what excellence looks like in communications, not just as an award but simply for structuring a communications project.

What really differentiates IABC is the global nature of the organisation. Whether through the connections you make, the events you can attend such as Euro Comm, this year an excellent experience in Copenhagen or World Conference, where just a couple of weeks ago over 1,300 communicators from 30 countries met in Montreal. All reports were it was a great event and next year I want to join them in Vancouver.

Another way we can display our international credentials is through our own activities. Earlier this year we worked with the IABC San Francisco chapter to hold a live ‘Conversation Across the Ocean’ where we had a panel eight hours apart but chatting as if we were in the same room; examining the cultural differences that communicators face. Feedback from the event was brilliant and we know there is interest from other US and Canada chapters to follow up.

Events are our ‘bread and butter’. Over the past year we have run a range of different events targeting and attracting people from across the communications spectrum. We ran one event, a hugely interactive opportunity to learn about improvisation in storytelling, in London and also in Leeds, with the latter attracting over 150 people.

Our relationships with Leeds University, and the London Communications College are flourishing. This year we will think about how we can do more for students, not just so they get a good experience this year, but also to provide skills students can take with them in their careers. We have two student board members this year. One of them Alexa Cifre has already blogged about how she has developed her networking skills at last night’s AGM.

Another key area of focus for this year will be our own communications (which may either be a strange or obvious thing to say for a comms sector organisation). We need to improve our proactivity around social media and website particularly and have plans in place to do that.

One other really important thing that I’m keen we focus on is listening. It’s a subject that I am very passionate about. My belief is listening forms a key part of the communicators’ armoury. As someone said to me recently, for communicators the output of listening is getting and sharing valuable insights, but the outcome is increased influence. Yet I believe, that in many big companies especially, listening is under threat. This may be because teams, shrinking in size but expected to do more are focused on huge tasked-based in trays, or the difficulties of getting around an organisation in an era of strict travel policies or maybe simply a lack of confidence or capability.

I think this is important and we need to do something about it. I want IABC to be involved in this, but it is probably bigger than something we can do ourselves and I’ve had conversations with colleagues from across the industry including some of the other sector groups, such as IOIC and CIPR Inside, to see where we can work together for the benefit of the profession as a whole.

Sometimes we do need to temper our enthusiasm and ambitions though and remember that everyone involved on the Board of IABC UK is a volunteer. For me personally, I’ve just started an exciting new job at Johnson Matthey. Leading a volunteer board means you won’t always get to deliver all the exciting things you might like to. Sometimes real life will get in the way. All the best laid plans etc. I say this because whilst our ambition is big, it is important to have a degree of pragmatism. Hopefully both the quality, and quantity of people we’ve got this year will mean we can cover when someone has to deal with other priorities.

Ultimately though it comes down to what members (and non-members) think. Are we offering value, are we providing something that helps them develop or do their job better? I hope so!

My ask of communication professionals reading this is please get involved, come to an event, tell us what you want and where we can provide you with something that is worthwhile. IABC (and the other comms organisations) can only prosper if you help us provide what you need.

If I’ve learnt anything this year it is the truth of the old saying “the more you put into something, the more you get out”. I’ve had a great year getting more involved with IABC, you can too and I’m excited about 2018/19, which looks set to be a memorable year for IABC UK.

I look forward to seeing you at an event soon.

IABC UK Board 2018/19

Howard Krais (President). Sarah Parker (President-elect), Mike Pounsford (Past President), Ann-Marie Blake, Suzanne Brooks, Claudia Damato, Gay Flashman, Georgia Halston, Sarah Harrison, Lauren MacDonald, Casilda Malagon, Una O’Sullivan, Alexandra Cifre, Kira Scharwey, Mathilde Schneider and Daniel Schraibman

IABC UK Summer Drinks & AGM

Wednesday 27th June, 6-8pm at The Madano Partnership

We would like to invite you to join us for the IABC UK Chapter AGM, where we’ll give a rundown of the past year’s activities and share our plans for the year ahead. 

This is a great evening to meet up with fellow IABC members and friends – fingers crossed for fine weather so that we can enjoy the spectacular City views from Madano’s roof terrace.

We hope to see you there.

Please register here.

Metaphor-jams or why IABC is like a savings account


Last night, I had the pleasure of taking part in a #Rapido Networking event to kick off a relationship between IABC and Leeds University Business School. It was my honour to share what IABC had to offer our 80 new members from Leeds. Here are some thoughts about IABC, hoping we can kick off a metaphor jam…

To me, IABC is like a career savings account. Let me explain:

  • The earlier you start putting into it, the better.– I wish I had been a member when I was doing my BA in Mexico, or my MA in Bournemouth Media School or even when I first moved to London to start a second career.
  • It would have made my path into the UK industry much smoother. It has given me something I didn’t have then: a global network of contacts that are more than happy to provide guidance on anything from good recruiters and career choices to favourite local coffee bars or suppliers.
  • You only get out as much as you put in – As an IABC member you can choose: stay on the side-lines and you’ll receive tons of useful information. Dare to become a volunteer – like many of us – and the sky is the limit on what you can achieve. IABC is a safe space to try out new skills, experiment and innovate.
  • You should be putting more in as you get older – As a student, a savings account is a luxury. So that’s the time when you should be squeezing as much as you can from those who are further along and have started to give back. Enrol in the mentoring scheme and push your mentor to give you more.

There is one way in which an IABC membership beats the saving account. It is portable and global. Many of our student members will move to other countries once they complete their studies. They will be taking IABC with them. From Manila to Paris, Los Angeles to Johannesburg, the local chapter is always there to welcome you.

Last night I walked away energized, inspired and in impressed at the quality and professionalism of the student-run event. It took both parties 18 months to turn an initial conversation into a real tangible, mutually beneficial partnership. So thank you to Daniel Schraibman and Dr. Kendi Kinuthia, among many others, for making it happen.

IABC is the largest network of professional business communicators in the world, and a source of peer-to-peer best practice sharing. This circle of learning wouldn’t be complete without those starting out their careers and we are delighted to welcome those students into our growing community.


Developing and destroying relationships


In my Communications World Magazine column last month, I promised to tell you about developing and destroying business partner relationships. And so by reading the next few hundred words, you’ll gain 15 tips, techniques and ideas that will help you develop—and not destroy—your business relationships.

Actually, I have just used three of those techniques in the last paragraph. But before I reveal what they are, let’s take a step back and look at relationship building.

Building relationships is at the core of any business partnering activity. You can’t be a business partner without relationships. And yet it is amazing how little thought goes into the analysis of how to build and sustain relationships.

In my opinion, building relationships is about building trust and putting yourself in a position where the partnership is a true two-way affair, not an asymmetrical one. But how do you build and measure trust?

The work of people like management expert David Maister and Shaun O’Callaghan of Quartet Research suggest that trust can be measured and mapped, and that a “trust equation” can be a useful analytical tool to help you understand which of your relationships are working well and which need attention.

Read more