How Being a Podcast Host Made Me an Active Listener
As a professional communicator and consultant, I’ve always prided myself on being a good listener. My job is to hear my client’s concerns, aspirations and challenges, then come up with easy to implement solutions. While this sounds great, once I took on the role of podcast host, I realized I needed to up my active listening skills.
As an interviewer it’s important you’re actively listening to what the interviewee is saying, not just focusing on your next question. There are many great nuggets or insights that can be missed if you aren’t fully present in the moment.
The difference between a good interview and formula interview is one where the interviewer digs deeper into a comment that was made. This is only done through active listening.
I thought I’d share some active listening techniques I use as a podcast host, and have integrated into the work I do with my clients.
While it’s great to have a roadmap for a conversation, don’t be afraid to detour. Think of a conversation like a road trip. The best part of any road trip is checking out the side roads, stopping and pausing to explore something new and being open to the experience.
This is why road trips are more enjoyable than let’s say a daily commute to work or routine trip to the grocery store. On road trips we’re less structured with the route, and more open to enjoying the experience.
The same goes with active listening. Absolutely there are some conversations where it’s important to stick to the roadmap – such as human resources or legal conversations. But let’s be honest, the vast majority of our conversations don’t need to be so structured.
Listen to what the person is saying, and give yourself permission to take a detour to learn more about their point of view or experience.
This leads us to curiosity. I’m a big believer of the power of having a curiosity mindset. When we’re curious we’re less likely to make assumptions, be judgemental or dismiss what the other person is saying.
Curiosity is a key part of active listening. If something gets your interest (good or bad), be curious. Ask more questions. Use phrases like – tell me more about that. I’m curious of your thoughts on this matter. Can you help me understand your perspective?
Through curiosity you can break down barriers and truly learn more about the other person’s perspective.
Listen to learn
Too often we enter conversations with an agenda. I want them to know this. I think X is important. We end up spending too much time focusing on our interests instead of listening to learn.
As a podcast host, I have found this is an important skill. If I want a good interview and to bring out the knowledge of my guest, I need to listen to learn.
It’s about not assuming I understand what is being said or looking for ways to insert my own experience. Rather, I ask questions that help me learn more. I often find in these follow up questions, my assumptions are dispelled or I gain new knowledge.
Let go of ego
My final piece of advice – not every conversation is about you! Don’t let your ego get in the way of being an active listener.
I admit, this is easier to do when I’m interviewing a guest on the podcast vs talking to a colleague. When I have a guest on, my focus is having an engaging interview. This involves using a variety of techniques to get the guest to open up and share their insights.
It’s clear the conversation is about the guest, not about me. But this line gets blurry in our personal lives, and even in our professional conversations.
We can be quick to get our backs up if someone says something that could be seen as a hit to our ego. It can result in a pivot from active to defensive listening. When the ego takes over, we’re more sensitive and defensive to what’s being said and less likely to embrace a curiosity mindset.
When I’m facilitating a workshop or training, I often start by saying – let’s begin by putting our egos on a shelf. It’s okay, they’ll be safe there and we can pick them up when we leave. But for now, let’s have open minds and ears to the conversations, free of our egos.
I often get a mix of confused faces and smiles, but the point sinks in and the defenses go down. When I’m asking a question that can be challenging, I remind people that their egos are on a shelf and to be open to how various perspectives.
This not-so-subtle reminder of how egos can get in the way of active listening works well in a group situation (as no one is personally being targeted). It’s something I try to remind myself when I put on my active listening hat.
I hope some of these tips resonate with you and that you’ve found new ways to be an active listener. While it may seem easy, it’s not. Active listening skills take time and practice to refine and master.
As I prepare for my next podcast interview, I will continue to look for new ways to improve my active listening. After all, part of this journey is about continual growth and learning.