Listen up: Some advice on how to engage like a journalist

Phil Castle

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

As a professional journalist, I’ve spent two-thirds of my nearly 63 years on the planet getting paid to talk to people and listen — really listen — to what they tell me. That’s a lot of practice. While it hasn’t necessarily made me a perfect interviewer or conversationalist, I’d assert it’s made me better one.

There’s a lot of advice out there about how to how to develop better relationships. To really connect with people. I can’t think of a more crucial ability, one that applies to nearly every aspect of life. It’s especially crucial in business. Consider what goes into selling products and services. Obtaining financing from lenders or investors. Or, for that, matter, getting along with coworkers and bosses. As much as business remains a matter of money, it’s also about relationships. People prefer to do business with those they know, trust and like.

I’m no expert in interpersonal relationships. I don’t even play one on TV. I’m willing to bet, though, some of what I’ve learned over my career applies to business situations. The next time you face a business interaction — a meeting, networking event or other encounter — engage like a journalist.

Be prepared. I never go into an interview without first conducting as much background research as time allows and then planning not only the questions I’ll pose, but also their order. Think about what you want to talk about. Think about what you to ask for and the reasons why. Although I’ve got a script of sorts, I don’t necessarily stick to it. Remain flexible enough to steer in a different direction and discover where that takes you. I conclude interviews by asking if there’s a good question I DIDN’t pose. This affords an opportunity to bring up other and perhaps even more important information.

Demonstrate your interest. This might be easier for me than others because I really am interested in the people I interview. They’ve got information I want to learn. That attribute extends beyond news sources, though. Everyone is a subject matter expert on something. They’ve got fascinating information they’d love to relate if only someone would ask them. You might discover a shared passion that could serve as the beginning of a beautiful friendship. 

Pose the right questions. I’m interested in finding out not only the who, what, when and where, but also the how and especially the why. Ask what motivates people and chances are good you’ll gain deeper insights that could prove valuable to your relationships personally and professionally.

Listen carefully. My work as a journalist has trained me to listen to what people tell me — not for the next opportunity to interject my thoughts. Practice listening as if you’d have to subsequently 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 engaging like a journalist.