Business communication skills trainers are fond of promoting the virtues of active listening, the back-channelling and mumbled niceties that show we’re paying attention: “Do you really?” “How fascinating!”
Now get ready for a new one: reactive listening.
It was the psychiatrist Eric Berne who said, “Everyone in the world just wants to be listened to, but they seldom get what they want because so does everyone else.” Learners of business English would do well to take heed, for it’s in listening to the speech of others, rather than so-called “useful expressions”, that the seeds of their own fluency lie.
If you’ve really been listening, agreement is a simple matter of echoing the last few words you heard:
“Perhaps we should hold another meeting.”
“Hold another meeting, mm.”
Disagreement can be shown in exactly the same way just by cranking your voice up into an interrogative: “Hold another meeting?”
You can also conserve energy by recycling another speaker’s adverb:
“Isn’t this going to be very expensive?”
And upgrade as you recycle: “Mm, extremely.”
Querying can be as easy as re-treading a modal auxiliary.
“Well, clearly we must do something, but what we can’t do is spend any more money.”
“Must we? Can’t we?”
A further option is to use your partner’s utterance to jump-start your own with a handy conjunction. Picture three speakers:
“This campaign isn’t working.”
“But it will.”
“Yes, and I have the figures to prove it.”
So the more efficiently you listen, the less you actually need to say. It certainly cuts down the amount of hot air, which can only be kinder to the business environment.