I’ve been told I’m a good listener. At times “being a good listener” is a tough thing to own.
It can mean you’re “quiet,” or you need to step up and voice your opinion. Luckily, I’ve never been accused of not having an opinion. It turns out, this skill – listening – has been essential in my professional career.
I think everyone can agree that there are many times we should strive to do more listening and less talking. In some ways, technology has created a trend toward less depth in our conversations as we condense our ideas into Tweets, Facebook posts, and Snaps. In other ways, technology has replaced one-way “broadcast” communications with multi-directional conversations—and things like social listening have made it possible to understand what’s top-of-mind for entire groups of people.
As a consultant, listening is essential. It starts with trying to understand what the client’s needs are, what they’re trying to accomplish, and the ins and outs of their business. Listening also plays a huge part when I perform customer research for marketing campaigns. If I go into an interview with a customer truly listening, I will learn everything I need to know about how to communicate with them about their product or service.
But listening requires effort. It requires clarifying questions. It requires making sure you really understand what you’re hearing. Really, listening is about showing up with the belief you will learn something new.
Too often, as marketers—and as people in general—we go into conversations with a pre-defined idea and as a result we jump too quickly to conclusions. Truly listening opens us up to new possibilities and new solutions that haven’t been thought of before. Listening isn’t just a nice idea. It offers real dividends. The benefits of good listening are everywhere. Listening is fundamental to getting the most of teamwork—ensuring the best ideas can be heard and team members can collectively build on each other’s ideas. Listening ensures you deliver better work by making sure it is on target, solves the right problem, and meets the intended goal.
Want to improve your listening skills at work? Here are some best practices to consider:
- Learn something new
It’s human nature to want to be heard and recognized for our ideas. Often this means we go into conversations focused on what we want to say. This is important. But so is going into conversations with the potential to learn something new. Try to go into every conversation with the assumption that you don’t already know everything—that you can learn something new by listening to someone with another point of view, another perspective, another set of experiences. Invariably, if you go into it with this attitude, you will be better for it.
It’s almost a cliché to talk about today’s fast-paced world—where we communicate quickly and the time window to be heard is always shrinking. But you can change this with a simple pause. After you’ve made your point, pause, and give another person a chance to add to the conversation. Another variation of the pause is to wait briefly after someone starts talking. Sometimes their next sentence has everything you need to know. In consulting, capturing information—whether from clients, subject matter experts, or research participants—is essential. It’s tough to get the insights you need if you only let people get through one sentence. If you cut them off, you’ll never know where they were going with a particular thought. Better yet, go the next step and ask questions. Give people a platform to share their ideas.
- Summarize what you think you heard
A part of the practice of “active listening” is to summarize what you think you heard to ensure you got it right. This is particularly useful in qualitative customer research and focus groups, but it holds true in any conversation you have. Quickly reviewing what someone said helps to ensure accuracy of information, and it can help open the door to further insight or examples that will make their ideas better understood.
In the spirit of this post, I’d love to hear your feedback and ideas on listening.