June 20, 2012

The Importance of Listening.


We not only need to listen to others with patience and sensitivity, we need to listen to ourselves.

Is that headache telling us we’re on dangerous ground? Is that heartburn literally our heart telling us we’re not being true to our values?

Much has been written about developing listening skills and the tools are well-known, but not often used. For example, waiting for the other person to finish their sentence in spite of the fact that we are certain we know what they are going to say and that we already know the answer. Remember, some of us don’t know what we think until we hear ourselves say it out loud. Make room for that person to finish their train of thought and arrive at their true thinking rather than derailing them with your well-intended interruption.

Another important tool is contextual listening, or placing what you are hearing, as well as what you are not hearing, into the present context.

It’s easy to mistake thoughtful silence for disagreement. If we think a customer is disagreeing with us we want to jump right into the silence and offer a reason why we are sure we are right.

Fast talking can be misinterpreted as nervousness and if we try to cut it off, hoping to reassure the customer, we may have missed the point. His fast talking might be excitement, passion, or a clue that he’s from New York City. We can’t know unless we allow him the space to tell us.

Another tool is confirming what we heard.

Many people mistake this for “parroting,” repeating back to the customer what he just said. Not only is that an irritating practice, but it puts all the emphasis on the words themselves rather than the meaning the words were trying to convey. A more powerful tool is to ask a question like, “I heard you say this was important to you because… Am I understanding you correctly?”

We should always allow a few seconds for the customer to respond and then we have an opportunity to ask a question of our own. Most of us have heard the adage, “Silence is golden,” but we struggle to apply it, especially in negotiations or discussions designed to avoid or address conflict.

The most important tool for effective listening is a sincere desire to understand the other person.

As I said last week in The Importance of Empathy, we have an opportunity to understand, appreciate and connect with our customers and the best way to do that is through listening.

As Dale Carnegie said, “You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.”

Substitute the word “customers” for “friends” and you have a fundamental principle of selling and living with soul.

Finally, many of us are good at listening to others but never take time to listen to ourselves.

We run from task to task in our busy, noisy, wired world. We juggle priorities and demands and fall into bed at night too exhausted to think or count our blessings. Time for reflection, even in our cars before we set them for drive, can help us know whether this is a customer we want to work with or not. Can we respect their agenda and goals? Can we really help them, or are we force-fitting a solution? Listening to our own inner voice provides an opportunity to check the healthiness of our intentions and choices and to learn so we do better at each opportunity.

Read the other articles in this series:

Using Respect to Create a Mindful Business

The Importance of Empathy in Business


Editor: Brianna Bemel

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