In the martial arts, close observations are vital to reading an opponent’s intentions. The same observation skills are needed in business encounters, says Cash Nickerson, an executive and third-degree black belt in Kenpo karate. Nickerson draws on the strategies of the fabled samurai for his new book, The Samurai Listener (Post Hill Press, March 6,2018) — and shows how many martial arts strategies actually translate quite effectively when used in the boardroom. The keen focus a samurai relies on in combat is akin to active listening in a business environment, notes the author.
As president and a principal of PDS Tech, Inc., one of the largest engineering and IT staffing firms in the United States, Nickerson has been through plenty of business conversations. Too often, he notes, they’re not really exchanges at all, but about voicing opinions — an approach that gets in the way of truly listening or having a productive outcome.
In pushing our own agenda, we become blind to what’s really going on. We’re not watching our counterpart’s body language or being receptive to nuance — which are vital parts of listening. Nickerson uses the acronym ARE U PRESENT to explore the various ways to be attentive, receptive, engaging and persistent in every interaction.
Each chapter is devoted to one of these principles, with helpful exercises and suggested dialogues enable readers to put them into practice. The chapter on engagement, for example, looks at give and take, and aptly identifies a whole range of talker and listener types. Among them are Dominators: in the martial arts, these are the opponents so focused on the attack that they don’t know how to effectively defend themselves.
In business, they are the ones who constantly interrupt everyone one, overriding anyone else’s points in order to reassert their own. It’s a demeanor that can easily derail a meeting into a conversational brawl. But there are plenty of useful ways to defang a Dominator — as Nickerson shows. Making it clear ahead of time that you’re looking for input from those who haven’t been heard yet can quickly silence a Dominator type.
This is a timely book given recent headlines about business and leadership: the chapter on emotions takes a look at how some presidential candidates were able to keep their cool in the face of Donald Trump’s provocations — and stay in the running for far longer. Managing emotions requires a samurai level of focus and composure — something many people saw firsthand in how Hillary Clinton handled the debates. Nickerson details a whole range of martial arts tactics to help, such as learning how to slow down breathing to quell anxiety and fear. Certainly they could help in many a stressful situation.
Like the best business books, this one doesn’t just stick with theory: it also offers hands-on tips. The last part of the The Samurai Listener is a 12-week Listening Improvement Plan with suggested practice schedules and ideas for how to apply each principle to real-life interactions.
Nickerson is clearly passionate about both business and the art of listening raised to a high martial art. He’s taken care to craft an effective and convincing guide to handling oneself under pressure, though with an even more appealing extra: follow the plan and practice the skills, and you, too, can become a samurai of business — earning not only the respect of your coworkers, but possibly a promotion as well.
Learn more at the author’s website.