Email, voicemail, texting, emailing—we have countless ways to communicate. And yet, it seems we often more often miscommunicate. What’s going on? Either our communications are unclear, or someone is just not listening.
Most likely, it’s both. We fire off emails too quickly, without listening or thinking, so we end up having to send a second or third email to explain what we meant. We try to talk on the phone and do other tasks at the same time, and end up not really paying attention. Hurry rarely saves us time in the long run.
Listening has become a lost art. They certainly don’t teach listening in business school. We all know people who hold MBAs from prestigious schools but really don’t know how to listen. But listening is a critical skill, needed for success in almost any field.
The good news is, listening can be learned; empathy can be cultivated. If you are willing to hone this skill, you’ll move ahead. It may seem counter-intuitive, to practice empathy in order to beat your competitors, to become successful. Knowledge is power is true. And how do you obtain knowledge in the marketplace? You listen. Listening is the key to success.
And while it takes time to listen, it takes even more time to backtrack and attempt to clarify muddled communication. If you don’t listen and do the wrong thing or send the send the wrong information, you’ll have to go back and do it again, which certainly is not efficient.
Empathetic listening doesn’t mean you become someone’s therapist. Rather, it means you find out what they really need—so that you can meet those needs with whatever service, products or information your company is selling. You find out what works and what doesn’t. You gather enough information so that when you do speak, you sound informed. Because you are!
Business leader Mark DeMoss, in his book The Little Red Book of Wisdom, writes: “In my life it’s safe to say that I have never learned a single thing while I was talking. My willingness to close my mouth and open my ears, on the other hand, has granted me free admission to a great education.”
In many ways, it really is that simple—close your mouth and open your ears. Notice what someone is communicating both verbally and non-verbally. Learn the power of this little sentence: “I think I hear you saying___________. Did I understand you correctly?” Wow. Just imagine hearing that as a customer—wouldn’t it make you want to do business with the person saying it?
DeMoss adds, “Good listening is an act of the will and exercise of the intellect. The trick is to let the moment pass when you might, short term, have the floor and hold attention. To dominate a meeting or conversation is not power; informed, good judgment is power.”
While email and texting can be helpful tools, DeMoss and others point out that they often hinder us from in-depth conversation, which is necessary to build strong alliances and customer loyalty.
Here are some basic tips on being a good listener:
Don’t spend the time the person is talking crafting a response in your head. Try to focus on actually hearing what they’re saying. Respond with a brief summary of what they’ve told you, then give your response.
Do one thing at a time—don’t try to listen to one person while texting someone else. It will backfire on you!
If possible, have important conversations face-to-face, or at least by phone, rather than email. 90 percent of what we communicate is relayed via non-verbal communication—tone of voice, inflection, expression, body language. Email prevents us from seeing and hearing those clues. In person meetings allow you to look people in the eye, to communicate interest with your body language, to gain key information that is only relayed non-verbally.
Resist the urge to give advice, or dismiss the other person’s ideas as irrelevant. Just listen. If you disagree, don’t tip your hand. Just say, “that’s an interesting idea. Tell me more about it.” If you wait, you may realize their idea isn’t so bad.
If you have to communicate via email, especially if the discussion gets heated, slow down! Before sending an email, read it out loud. Wait a few minutes and read it again. Are you saying what you really mean to say? Are you sure you clearly understood what the other person was saying? Taking a little more time to clearly communicate will save you time in the long run. Just because email can be sent instantly doesn’t mean you should send it thoughtlessly.
Practice on friends and family. If you practice good listening skills outside of work, you’ll get better at it. The added benefit of improved relationships outside of work is just another reason why you should learn to listen.
K Lynn is a business writer and marketing expert.Mark DeMoss is the founder and president of The DeMoss Group, a public relations firm in Atlanta. Learn more at www.littleredbookofwisdom.com