Listening, instead of selling

My new course last quarter was entitled:  Business Development for Personal and Career Success. I thought I would spend a great deal of the time in the course convincing students of the power of selling in their career search.  I used Dan Pink’s To Sell Is Human as a textbook because Pink does a pretty good job of selling selling (see last blog, which was written at the beginning of the course, in which I promised to blog throughout the course—who’d have thought creating and teaching a class was so all-consuming), but when you get in front of 18 really talented MBA students in the last two months of their MBA coursework, you really need something compelling to say to get your concepts across.

Or, as I learned, you don’t.

Surprise: the new key to selling that I learned in this course is the value of listening. In their feedback to me, students valued two key elements of the class: listening to each other, and one-on-one meetings with me.  Why?  As with all things Darden, you learn by doing, so we spent much valuable class time telling our stories, and framing purposeful questions, and answering hard interview questions.  But equally, you learn when you listen to others struggle with situations similar to yours, and with their stories, and with their value propositions.  I believe students gained from that part of the course because empathy is a powerful teacher.  Listening to their colleagues instead of me gave them deeper insight into what their own solutions might be.

Second, you learn when you listen to yourself.  It is powerful (and at the heart of the Socratic teaching method) to have to tell someone what you are struggling with. One requirement for the course was four one-on-one meetings with me.  In the meetings, the students were forced to confront the issues that they were facing in their job search and articulate them to me.  I just listened.  But by articulating the problems, they started listening to themselves, and then realizing solutions.

So, my examination of the class, and what I can do to engage more students in the concept of selling, is not talk (or sell) more, but structure the class so we can all listen more.  It is in listening that Pink’s concepts of attunement, buoyancy, clarity, pitch, improvise and serve become real, more relevant, and more easily applicable to the job search.

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