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How important are soft skills, including active listening, to the success of an MSL?

Long-term KOL relationships, which are THE key responsibility of an MSL, are a direct result of meaningful, open and authentic communication. The ‘meaningful’ component of this equation can only be achieved by active listening, which is defined simply as listening to understand versus listening to respond. If you are thinking of how you are going to respond during a conversation with a KOL, you are not practicing active listening.

What is the impact of an MSL having effective active listening skills?

How many times have you been speaking with a peer, or colleague or even KOL and it is clear that they are not engaged or present during the conversation? If you feel it, people speaking to you feel it when you are not present. This is very simple to test; conscientiously practice being 100% present during an upcoming conversation with a KOL (some of the techniques for doing this exercise will be discussed during the workshop) and you will literally feel the difference in the quality of the conversation and responsiveness of your audience. The impact, though not measureable, is unequivocal.

How can MSLs best utilize these skills to build relationships with KOLs that create an authentic communication experience?

Practice. Practice with peers, colleagues, friends and family. Authentically engaging KOLs is one of the most rewarding aspects of being an MSL. Until you experience the success of authentic communication, you cannot monitor your progress. Co-travel with a manager or peer you know is good at actively listening to help assess your progress. If you can achieve this level of communication, you will understand why great MSLs love their job!

What is the best way to adapt to different KOL communication styles?

Know your own first. Self-awareness or emotional intelligence is an essential ingredient for understanding how you prefer to communicate. You can only adapt if you know from where you are starting. Then identify colleagues with opposite communication styles to you and practice conversing. It is easy to communicate with people that have similar styles to you and believe what you believe. The key to adapting to someone with a different communication style is empathy. Understanding their perspective (empathy) requires understanding their communication style.

What are the greatest challenges associated with listening, and how can one overcome them?

The greatest challenges associated with listening is lack of self-awareness and lack of preparation. Preparation is straight forward; 1) research the KOL your engaging, 2) know and track your meeting objectives, and 3) practice your opening and closing for the meeting so that you are not pre-occupied during the meeting which allows you to be fully present. Self-awareness checks are more challenging, but can be accomplished best during authentic KOL engagements by simply pausing and confirming that what you are hearing or saying is consistent with what the KOL is saying or hearing. Everyone wins if you take the time to authentically and openly engage.

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