More often than not, we consider effective communication in business to be all about saying the right thing in the right way. Consider, however, that the real secret to business success is not what you say, but in how you listen. Far from being a passive activity, true listening is anything but passive – and whether it’s a matter of listening to customers or your team, honing your skills in this area will definitely impact your bottom line.
Here are some simple tips for upping your listening skills, and therefore upping your profits:
- PRACTICE BEING PRESENT. Actually be there, in the conversation, and not somewhere else. It sounds simple, but it’s harder than you might think. Let’s say a customer is giving me feedback about my product or service, or a team member is expressing frustration with how we do something in the business. I need to practice noticing when I’m just surviving the moment so we can get on to the next thing. Or I’m busy thinking about the last time I had a conversation like this. Or I’m planning ahead to what I’m going to say when it’s my turn to talk. In all those cases, I’m not really hearing what’s being said – which means I’m missing an opportunity to get valuable input, or strengthen a relationship, or improve my business. When you’re in conversations, particularly those that can be threatening or confronting, ask yourself whether you’re actually listening and in the conversation. When you notice you’re not, and you’re merely waiting to defend yourself, stop – and actually listen to what the other person has to say. While you may feel more vulnerable in the moment, you are in reality going to be more powerful and more easily able to impact the situation. And the more you practice being present, the better you’ll get at it.
- NOTICE WHAT YOU ADD TO WHAT’S SAID. It’s actually shocking how seldom people deal with what’s being said, but instead deal with the meaning they added to what is said. If you tell me I totally failed to deliver what I promised, for example, often what I hear at the same time – even though you never said it – is that I may lose you as a client. I “add” the prospect of losing you as a client to what was actually said, which is that I didn’t deliver on time. The problem with that, is that I now start responding with reasons to justify why I shouldn’t lose you as a client. But you never said anything about that – you said I didn’t deliver what was due. To the degree I can hear what you said, and then respond to that specifically (which may mean owning up to the fact that our company screwed up), often that alone is enough to get me and my client back on the same page and looking at what is now needed.
- REALLY GET THE COMMUNICATION. When you’re present and not adding anything to what’s said, you can actually hear what people are concerned about – and then let them know their communication “landed.” Say it back to them: “Yes, you’re right, I didn’t deliver this thing on time.” It’s one thing to hear words being spoken, it’s another to really get someone’s communication in a way that they know you got it. Really effective communication involves the conversational ball actually being “caught” as well as thrown – and it makes all the difference in the world for the person communicating. It also helps to demonstrate you understand why they’re saying what they’re saying – as in, “I can see why you would be upset about this problem,” or “I know you’re wanting us to come up with the best possible solution for everyone,” or “I imagine you’re committed to the same thing I am here.” Sometimes, in fact, all someone needs is for their communication to be really heard and “gotten.”
As you become better and better at actually being present in conversations, and better and better at listening to what people are actually saying (instead of the meaning you add to what people say), you’ll find yourself really listening to – and then taking actions based on – what really matters to your clients and team members. You can have your attention not on yourself, but on what the other person is dealing with and what they really care about. Ironically, having your attention on the other person and really listening makes you better able to do all kinds of things that are important to you and your business – you can improve your product or service, make your customers happier, increase the satisfaction and effectiveness of your team, and ultimately enjoy greater profits.