Career Advice

The Art of Networking: Shut up and Listen

Posted by Esteban
min read

Sometimes I find myself going on a rant about something that is completely unrelated to the original topic of conversation I’m involved with.  Afterwards, I ask myself:

  • How often do I do this?
  • Why do I do this?
  • And, importantly, what can I do to change this behaviour?

Over time, I have developed the skill of holding interesting conversations with complete strangers. This is a very important skill, especially when attending business networking events. With tenacity, I pull out relevant information that allows me to better understand who it is that I am networking with. In a recent conversation with my work colleagues over an iced cold brew coffee, I asked the question, “when is it the right time to just simply shut up and listen?”


Let’s start with knowing how to identify yourself as a chatter box.

When involved in a large group conversation, are you the most dominant person talking? If so… then that’s far too much talking. Talking is like a nice cool glass of vintage rose, once you have tasted it, you just keep wanting to have a sip. Listening, on the other hand, is much like gym and exercise… it can be hard. We may despise the thought of heading to the gym but we love the after effects it brings.

Listening will strengthen your influence on the person you are networking with. When your body language and demeanour clearly show that you are interested in what that person has to say, they are more likely to listen to you and warm to building a business relationship.

Characteristically, the 1980s business leader, Robert Holmes à Court*, would at press conferences, stand and listen to a journalist’s question, but would never reply prior to remaining silent for a minute or two and allowing his mind to firstly process his response. Interestingly and as an aside, Mr Holmes à Court always wore a white business shirt with a tie when in working mode!


Think about this….

Step 1: Don’t cut people off when they are speaking

Cutting people off is a bad habit that we are all guilty of at times. We may not always agree with another person’s view or opinion but a good listener will allow a person to keep talking and not interject.  Show that you feel for them and understand them, show empathy. You have then earned the right to respond and provide feedback. People respect and appreciate you giving them the time and opportunity to speak and will feel more relaxed, connected and willing to talk more further down the track.


Step 2: Be wary of negativity and gossip

Understand that not everyone wants to hear about the failure of others. Don’t engage in negative conversations or gossip about your or your networker’s competitor.  Remember - we are all doing our best. I wouldn’t like to hear people tarnishing my name to others so I won’t be that guy either. The best approach is to smile and move on.  Say something simple like “I am unable to comment on that as I don’t know enough” or “business has it up and downs. How are you traveling?”. This will allow a deferral without losing interest and it draws a line in the sand.


Step 3: Asking controlled and leading questions

Be prepared before heading to the networking event for who you might see. Think of some strong leading questions, open-ended questions that can’t be answered with a one-word answer. Think about where their business is going and question them on recent achievements and current projects. People love to talk about themselves - how busy they are, what they have achieved or want to achieve. Personal conversation can come across as intrusive and unprofessional until you both know each other better so at a networking event, keep it business-like.


Step 4: Pay attention - AKA listen carefully

When in conversation, you will find that even though you may not be doing a lot of the talking, you are building rapport by posing strong questions from a positive, focused mindset. You will begin to pick up on minor details from the conversation that will then help you with your next catch up whether it be a casual visit or a scheduled meeting. 

Even though you could talk to a brick wall and go on and on about “paint drying”,  be mindful that “ranting” is not conducive to good networking and relationship building. Be positive, humble and focused. And most importantly of all, listen!


* Michael Robert Hamilton Holmes à Court: (27 July 1937 – 2 September 1990) was a South African-born Australian entrepreneur who became the country's first billionaire, before dying suddenly of a heart attack in 1990 at the age of 53.