Best Business Books: Book Review of “The Samurai Listener”, by Cash Nickerson


Accurately perceiving another’s meaning and intention is a strong tactic for succeeding in the business world. But many people fail to pay close attention and to listen carefully in their dealings with others, and they miss critical signals. Just like with the martial arts, failing to read one’s opponent in business interactions can leave you vulnerable.

Cash Nickerson, a company president and avid student of martial arts, has cleverly applied the skills of a Samurai warrior to the active listening skills needed in business in his new book, The Samurai Listener. He makes the case that, in business, those who engage in active listening in the same way that a Samurai engages with an opponent are better able to handle conflict, express respect for clients and associates and, ultimately, transform into a leader.

Listening is a matter of degrees and Nickerson has broken the process into the different variables that can be improved upon. Most people listen only to get a sense of the speaker’s intent, and focus more on making their own point than on understanding different perspectives, agendas and feelings. To improve these skills, he has developed an acronym, ARE U PRESENT, which captures the elements of full engagement in any interpersonal exchange.

For example, he notes that great sales calls, great interviews and great negotiations involve give and take. This involves engagement — one of the ARE U PRESENT elements. So many conversations come down to give and give from one person, followed by give and give from the other. Relating this to the martial arts, he asks what a student would learn about defending himself if he only did the striking. He offers tips for curbing any tendencies to dominate conversations, such as refraining from changing the subject to your own matter of interest.

Another component of ARE U PRESENT is being receptive. If involves paying attention to body language. Receptive people have open arms. They nod and smile. Non-receptive people cross their arms, frown and look away. He advises that when someone shows that he or she isn’t receptive in a conversation, to stop and ask, “Are we on the same page, or did I lose you?”

After describing each of the ARE U PRESENT elements, Nickerson encourages readers to practice each one individually for a week. He provides exercises for ways to embed them into daily life. In doing so, he believes that others will begin to respond to you in more positive ways and look up to you as a leader.

Nickerson describes what it’s like to be in “the zone” in the martial arts. It happens when you’re fully present: You take in everything as if it’s a film that has slowed to reveal each individual frame. Being in the zone allows you to see things others don’t see — such as body language or someone’s breathing pattern. Similarly, being in the zone in your conversations comes from mastering the elements of engagement involved in true communication. It’s the way of the Samurai listener.

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