What do the experiences of a hostage negotiator have to do with the world of PR? This was the first question I asked when the idea of the topic for our next FSC breakfast briefing came up. The answer? EVERYTHING.
We recently enjoyed a briefing from the highly knowledgeable and even more highly recommended Richard Mullender – former Lead Trainer at the National Hostage and Crisis Negotiation Unit, Scotland Yard, who now runs business masterclasses and authors guides on the art of listening and negotiating.
The most important lesson of the session centred on how to listen effectively – something in PR, we all know is vital to ensure client needs are met. Here are four key points to follow:
- Make sure you are in the listening position (yes this is a real thing): feet firmly on the floor, sitting forward, palms open and keeping eye contact –otherwise known as the ‘you paid how much?’ position.
- Cut down on questions. Let the other person speak and only respond using minimal encourages like ‘go on’ and ‘tell me more’, as this allows the other person to continue talking without you changing the subject.
- Whilst listening, it’s important to re-cap what you have heard every now and again. Use paraphrasing to make sure you have understood both the meaning and the facts the other person is saying. Try regular paraphrasing and re-capping in meetings to ensure everyone is clear on what has been agreed.
- If dealing with a challenging situation, be it with a client or journalist, stating your impression is the best way to address it. First listen to what’s being said and their tone of voice and then offer an interpretation of the emotion that lies behind what they have said. For example ‘I get the impression’, ‘I sense that’ or ‘it sounds like’. This tells the other person you are not sure and gives them permission to put you right without taking offence.
I don’t think I’ll be the first to praise Richard’s masterclasses, but what I will tell you, is that I’m practising to be a much better listener. Watch this space.
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