Effective listening is at the heart of effective business – giving us data, insights and loyalty we’d otherwise lose. How do we listen better to unlock value?
As a business coach, a lot of my job is to listen. I’ve been trained in it and I know my clients value it. But listening is a key skill in all businesses especially if you run your own business. Put it this way, it’s important for Coca Cola or Microsoft to listen to their customers, to provide what they want but, ultimately, if they’re tone deaf and get things wrong, they’re big enough to weather the storm (e.g. the New Coke debacle of 1985 or the Windows Vista mis-step in 2009). For the founder, entrepreneur or business owner without that multi-million-pound cushion or machine behind them, listening to their investors, their partners, their employees, their suppliers and most importantly, listening their customers and clients is the lifeblood of the business.
Everyone knows that better communication is key to transforming business. Well then it follows that effective listening (which is at the heart of good communication) is the secret weapon of really effective business. Effective listening saves time, it saves money, it prevents and solves internal and external conflict. When people feel we’re really listening to them, they feel valued (building relationship), they tell us the truth (building trust), they give us new, key information (building invaluable insights). All of these things – relationship, trust and insights – are vital for growing your business. I run workshops and webinars on this topic because very few of us do it well naturally but it is a skill which most of us can learn and clients who develop their effective listening see tangible improvements in the way that they do business and in the business that they do.
Despite knowing how annoying it is when someone is not listening to us properly, we somehow think that we’ll get away with it. But you can’t pretend to listen well. You’re either doing it or you’re not. There are two main challenges to listening well. The first is our attention: Unsurprisingly the quality of our listening is linked to the quality of our attention. We talk about paying attention to someone, because there’s a cost to it for us. When we’re paying attention in one place, we aren’t paying it elsewhere. But it is an investment that yields dividends. So, first of all, if you want to improve your business by improving your communication, engage your attention.
The second big challenge to listening effectively is our assumptions. Often we listen (if you’ll excuse the mixed metaphor) with blinkers on, assuming we know what the person is going to say. We see the Clueless Employee or the Customer Who Always Complains and, before the first word is out of their mouth, we stop listening because we think we know what’s coming. But what if that employee has spotted a great opportunity or that customer has some great feedback which would help us increase sales by 30%? Assumptions stop us making progress and moving forward. So disengage your judgments. Shift the gears and open your ears. Listening like this will build your business in ways which enable it to navigate challenges and changes in radically better ways. Whatever your business, make it your business to listen.