Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote,”every man I meet is my superior in some way, and in that I learn from him.” It’s one of my favorite quotes. This post is the third in a series that highlight some of the awesome people I’ve had the privilege to learn from.
Laurie Benson taught me the importance of giving everyone my full attention.
I met Laurie when I was a 23 year old second time senior at the University of Wisconsin. Jesse and I were invited to pitch Entrustet to Merlin Mentors, a group of successful business people who mentor startups in the Madison area. Laurie, who founded and ran Inacom Information Systems and grew it to over $80m in revenue and 150+ employees before it was acquired, was among the 12 or so potential mentors who we met that day in December 2008.
The first thing I noticed about Laurie was her eye contact, her nods, her acknowledgements of what we were saying. In contrast to some of the people in the meeting who were looking at papers, watching our powerpoint, checking their cell phones or taking notes, Laurie focused her full attention on us. At first, I just thought she was really interested in Entrustet, but after she joined our mentor team, I realized that Laurie gave everyone her full attention while she was listening.
It was a joy to present our progress each month to Laurie. She listened intently, looked us in the eye and when we were done, asked good questions. It was clear she was paying attention. One time I complimented her on her listening skills. She told me that giving someone her full attention was not only the right thing to do, but had helped her have success in business and in life. I decided to practice giving my full attention to as many people as I could when I spoke to them.
Giving your full attention to someone you are talking to shows respect to the speaker, but it also lets you really evaluate what the other person is talking about. You can show interest. Ask good questions. Really understand what they are talking about. You notice things. And when you’re speaking, other people are more likely to pay attention to you.
I noticed the difference fairly quickly. One time, I attended a dinner and got the chance to meet a very successful entrepreneur I really respected. I got lucky and he sat at my table after his speech. Near the end of dinner, the entrepreneur was speaking to me and another entrepreneur. He was interested in working with us on one of his charity projects. I was using the active listening techniques that I learned from Laurie. The other entrepreneur, who was about my age, kept looking at his smart phone. He was taking notes and checking email. The next day, the successful entrepreneur called me up and hired me. He told me that he really appreciated the way I listened and asked good questions. Chalk one up for the Laurie Benson method!
As I got in the habit of really listening to people, I noticed things began to change. People remember me more often. They tell me I’m a good listener. They ask for my advice. They offer to make connections for me. My friends think I’m more interesting, even if I’m not talking. I notice things and see better opportunities for myself, my business and for other people.
Why? Because in 2012, giving someone your full attention stands out. We have a short attention span. We’re on our phones. Emailing. Texting. Facebooking. Tweeting. Taking electronic notes. People might be distracted, thinking about “pressing” concerns. Many people believe its not disrespectful to look at their phone when they are talking. Everyone does it, right? Wrong. It’s disrespectful and shows the person you’re talking to that whoever you’re texting is more important than they are. I really dislike it and notice when my friends or business contacts give me their full attention.
I’m grateful that Laurie Benson became one of my mentors. She’s been there for me through business and personal challenges and taught me a multitude of things. But the most important thing Laurie Benson taught me was the value of giving everyone my full attention.