Listen: Some tips for engaging as a journalist

Phil’s Castle

I like to believe that I bring certain skills to the conversations and other interactions in which I engage. If not skills, at least experience.

As a professional journalist, I’ve spent two-thirds of my nearly 63 years on the planet being paid to talk to people and listen – really listen – to what they tell me. It’s a lot of practice. While that didn’t necessarily make me a perfect interviewer or conversationalist, I would argue that it made me better.

There’s a lot of advice out there on how to develop better relationships. To really connect with people. I can’t think of a more crucial ability, which applies to almost every aspect of life. This is especially crucial in business. Consider what happens in the sale of products and services. Obtain financing from lenders or investors. Or, for that matter, getting along with co-workers and bosses. As much as business is about money, it’s also about relationships. People prefer to do business with those they know, trust and love.

I am not an expert in interpersonal relations. I don’t even play it on TV. I’m willing to bet, though, that some of what I’ve learned in my career applies to professional situations. The next time you face a business interaction – a meeting, networking event, or other encounter – engage like a reporter.

Be ready. I never walk into an interview without first doing as much background research as time permits, then planning not only the questions I will ask, but also their order. Think about what you want to talk about. Think about what you are asking for and why. Although I have some sort of script, I don’t necessarily stick to it. Stay flexible enough to head in a different direction and find out where it takes you. I conclude interviews by asking if there is a good question that I did not ask. This allows you to provide other, perhaps even more important information.

Show your interest. It may be easier for me than for others because I really care about the people I interview. They have information that I want to learn. This attribute extends beyond news sources, however. Everyone is a subject matter expert on something. They have fascinating information that they would love to tell if only someone would ask them. You may discover a common passion that could be the start of a beautiful friendship.

Ask the right questions. What interests me is knowing not only who, what, when and where, but also how and especially why. Ask what motivates people and there’s a good chance you’ll gain deeper insights that could prove invaluable to your personal and professional relationships.

Listen carefully. My job as a journalist has taught me to listen to what people are telling me – not for the next opportunity to interfere with my thoughts. Practice listening as if you were then to write a story about what you learned.

There are differences between journalism and business, of course. But there are also similarities – and opportunities to profit from engagement as a journalist.